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TONY TRAVERS - TIME TO DON A KNOTTED HANKY AND FIND A DECKCHAIR

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The annual rush for the beach is well and truly under way. After a scorching July for most of England and Wales, lo...
The annual rush for the beach is well and truly under way. After a scorching July for most of England and Wales, local government - in common with other sectors - will now spend a few weeks re-charging its batteries. Locations as varied as Tuscany, Provence, Cornwall and Scotland will be peppered with the LGC-reading classes.

But what about Blackpool, I hear you cry? Surely local politicians and officers will want to be seen to promote traditional holidays? Indeed, after the blistering weather, a few cooler days in Great Yarmouth or Weston-super-Mare seem positively enticing. Moreover, such joy could be achieved without hours spent in a packed airport, still less a sardine-special plane.

Sadly, the traditional British seaside holiday has been in long-term decline since the late 1950s. The days of fixed weeks off from a Lancashire mill-town to take the train to Llandudno or Rhyl have long been superseded by cheap flights to the Mediterranean. The sepia-toned world of Hindle Wakes has been supplanted by two weeks of binge-drunk debauchery in Ibiza.

As a result of changing holiday patterns Britain's major resorts have lost much of their trade. Although Blackpool Pleasure Beach still entices up to seven million visitors a year, the local council has bleakly concluded 'Blackpool is overwhelmingly dependent on a seasonal resort economy, which is shrinking and moving inexorably towards terminal decline'. The town is attempting to kick-start its economy by bidding to pilot a regional casino.

Other seaside towns have felt the same economic forces ripple across their hotels, guesthouses and cafes. A number, including Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Torquay and Scarborough have managed to retain their up-market position. Inland resorts such as Harrogate and Bath (complete with newly re-opened spa) have prospered.

But it is the melancholy seafronts of New Brighton, Margate and Hastings that now need public policy assistance. In truth, Britain's seaside resorts have a great deal going for them, particularly if the climate is hotting-up. Many seaside towns have interesting and well-preserved Victorian architecture and, in a number of cases, brilliant piers. As and when oil prices and environmental taxes begin to discourage globe-trotting, people will return to the gentle charms of Aberystwyth, Southport and Dunoon.

Local and national government have roles to play in securing the long-term viability of seaside towns. After years of attention paid to major cities, London and the countryside, a little effort should now be devoted to these neglected assets. There are few things more 'British' than Punch & Judy and deckchairs, or for that matter, party conferences. Most of us share them as common history. While the August sun passes overhead, think about taking an autumnal break in Morecambe.

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