Invest in our coast to invest in Britain

Andrew Pexton

Regional Director – North West

Britain’s coastline is inseparable from the history of our nation. It is a culturally-rich mix of diverse places: integral to our industrial history and economic success, and home to some of the best-known and most beautiful areas of our country.

In the North West, the Port of Liverpool stands out as an example of a flourishing location. It is now the fourth largest container port in the UK with strong connections to Europe, plus trans-Atlantic links and destinations further overseas. The port has critical mass, a sustained industrial base and excellent transport links.

Despite the success we see in Liverpool, the dominant narrative about many of Britain’s coastal locations over recent decades has sadly been one of decline – driven by fading tourism and deindustrialisation.

We must address stagnation in these areas and create new incentives for coastal growth if Britain is to maximise its capabilities in the years ahead.

As an island with a lengthy coastline, high tidal ranges and a seabed well suited to offshore wind turbines, we have the ideal geography to attract investment and propel our growing renewable energy industry.

Britain is the biggest producer of wind power in Europe – boosted largely by projects in the North West along the shores of Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside and North Wales. The Mersey Tidal Power Project has the potential to make a big and long-term contribution to powering the nation. Other initiatives like HyNet North West will create new energy pipelines along the River Mersey and into North Wales, while pioneering carbon capture technology and producing hydrogen to replace fossil fuels in transport, industry, and homes.

Elsewhere, Freeports are helping to foster economic collaboration along the coast, and again Merseyside is leading the way.

Harworth’s 50-acre site at Parkside sits inside the Liverpool City Region Freeport designation and forms part of a larger Strategic Rail Freight Interchange. We are seeing how property and occupier focused incentives including business rate and Stamp Duty Land Tax relief, and capital allowances, are helping drive occupier interest.

These customs and tax free zones are important for a thriving manufacturing sector, and will spark investment into growing technology and innovation clusters – all of which will better connect local economies and drive their growth.

By boosting the economies of these coastal communities, we not only help those local areas but also the towns and villages that surround them.

Research from think tank Centre for Cities shows that when cities underperform, so do their surrounding towns. Considering that the most landlocked part of the UK is only 70 miles from the ocean, the economic challenges facing coastal communities have an impact on the growth and productivity of the country as a whole.

Centre for Cities’ research highlights the need for improving connectivity between cities and their surrounding towns in order to better distribute wealth and prosperity – something that many regional metro mayors are calling for, and is being unlocked through more meaningful public-private partnerships.

The end of 2023 saw a new train station opened in Kirkby, and the beginning of a fully integrated public transport system in Merseyside – following in the footsteps of Andy Burnham’s Bee Network in Greater Manchester. A new route is planned to run from Liverpool through Warrington Bank Quay and Manchester Airport, before stopping at a new underground station at Manchester Piccadilly. These programmes are especially significant to communities in the North West that have suffered from a lack of connectivity. They also illustrate the need for long-term commitment from central government to allow combined authorities and their regions to realise their capabilities.

A burgeoning renewables industry, paired with schemes like Freeports and integrated transport systems, provide an opportunity to bring about sustained investment into some coastal communities. However, we must ensure that coastal Freeports are able to draw from a readily available labour pool and distribution network, and that these resources are not constrained by a seafront facing location.

The main issue is that unless commercial use is port centric, the available pool of labour and the market are in the hinterland. Fronting the sea inherently reduces nearby land and therefore potential workforce and distribution networks to neighbouring places.

There is no one-size-fits-all-solution to revitalising our coastal communities – they each present their own unique challenges. But this means there are many ways to generate growth in these places. There is so much untapped capability in these areas that their potential to boost British growth and productivity can no longer be overlooked.