The British Seaside

Yesterday I had a day off with my wife and we went to the seaside. Littlestone to be precise. Being a lovely sunny day we even had a paddle as we walked along the beach.

Whilst there I had a few thoughts which I will share.

Firstly, being at Littlestone reminded me that there are many different sorts of British seaside and this is one of the many things I like about it. There are the seasides which have a town, with all its facilities, sitting behind the beach, and some of these towns have businesses which depend on the visitors in order to survive. There are other seaside towns which  are big enough in their own right not to be solely dependant on the seasonal visitors.

What struck me about Littlestone was that although the sandy beach was busy on a sunny day, the first of not only the summer but of the school holidays, there were no facilities. There were no amusement arcades; there were no places to eat and drink, there were no shops of any sort to spend your money in. The only thing you could do to relax was to relax – by sitting and watching the other users of the beach; by swimming or having a paddle; by building sandcastles; by sitting and reading. I am not one who takes well to just sitting, but walking along the beach, up to my knees in the incoming tide was really relaxing and enjoyable.

It was not long before I put my professional head on and got to thinking about what could be done to improve (or regenerate?) this bit of seaside . Would some nice places to eat and drink have added to the day, and if so how would it be be possible to make the premises which would need to be built viable when the season is so short in the UK and the resident population of Littlestone is quite small? I thought that a way around this would be to have good quality ‘Pop-Up’ restaurants and street-food stalls (not greasy burger vans) which don’t have to meet such high overheads before they show a profit. Then I got to thinking ‘why does everywhere have to have places to eat and drink, even if the food and drink is trendy and good quality?’ One of the things I like about the British seaside is that vast range of types of place we have – some people like the hustle and bustle, kiss-me-quick, type experience; others want posh food and drink, and others just what a simple offer with no commercialisation. One of the beauties of having beaches which are free to all is that no one has to squeeze as much money out of it as they can because they have had to pay someone else for the right to be there.

So, I started off by wondering if I could improve the seaside at Littlestone; decided that I could by encouraging a good quality Pop-Up approach, but then wondered if I should. I am offering no fixed view here but would be interested to hear what others think.

I also got to thinking about the homes which are there. There was a mixture of houses which have been there for years, ranging from those built by ‘homesteaders’ between the wars to those built after WWII, and also more modern homes in typical developer ‘noddy’ house style. But I thought it a shame that most of the new homes were so boring and like most new homes could have been anywhere. I have always thought that many coastal locations, and especially those not so obviously beautiful, can take a more robust and ‘modern’ design. One or two individuals have built ‘modern’ looking homes replacing old houses and it was nice to see them, but I would have liked to see more of them and some even-more daring.

So, I began to think about whether there should be a planning policy which encouraged a more daring approach to design for, say, homes which looked out to the sea or across to the marshes or the shingle banks. This approach would certainly alter the feel of the area, from the sleepy place I knew as a child, to more cutting edge looking to the future rather than living in the past. But then I wondered if this would be the right thing to do. Is being slightly old fashioned (or no-fashioned) a price worth paying if it means that those other than the wealthy and the trendy can live in a place which they can enjoy and are not priced out by the design conscious, knowledge-working, classes? I would love to see some more interesting architecture, perhaps a new seaside vernacular, but how could I encourage this, and should I even be putting my views on this on others. If I really wanted to see this should my only involvement be to buy a plot and build my own place rather than trying to practice ‘regeneration’ on others. Again, I am not offering answers here but would like to hear your thoughts.

I think what I am getting at here, inspired by my day out to the seaside, is that those of us who work in Regeneration must consider carefully exactly what ‘problems’ we are trying to solve – are they really problems, or are they just things which upset our ‘sensibilities’? Should we resist the temptation to improve what works even if it could be made to work ‘better’ for some people?

Let me know what you think.

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