Coastal Communities Tamar Bridge
Does Blackpool have more in common with its inland neighbouring city, Preston, or with Torbay in Devon – over four hours away? Anecdotal evidence suggests the latter. 
However, without a coastal community definition and reliance on local authority (LA) or Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) data, comparisons of deprivation drivers and economic performance are difficult. 
Only when administrative boundaries are drawn around predominately coastal communities – like Torbay, Brighton and Blackpool – can data sets throw light on the problems they face.

The challenge of defining coastal communities 

There is currently no agreed definition of ‘coastal communities’. This results in studies establishing their own criteria. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has started to collate data for 169 coastal towns in England and Wales but these exclude residents of coastal towns and cities with populations over 225,000. 
The problems that arise from this lack of agreed definition were recognised by Professor Sir Chris Whitty in his 2021 Chief Medical Advisor report, to which Professor Sheena Asthana and Dr Alex Gibson contributed.

The cultural landscape 

Any definition of ‘coastal communities’ also needs to include an understanding that it is part of a wider cultural landscape that is both multivalent and dynamic. A cultural landscape is understood as the relationship between people and landscape – how they inhabit a space and the meaning they place upon it – and how this informs the cultural identity of the people that inhabit it. Therefore, any coastal definition is also dependent on how people inhabit the environment and their sense of cultural identity.

Defining 'coastal'

The underlying drivers of seaside towns

Drawing on a socioeconomic dataset of 58 of the largest seaside towns, Professor Agarwal led a project which sought to understand why some coastal areas are economically 'lagging' while others are 'leading'. Through a multi-tiered approach, drawing on a unique bespoke 'seaside town' database, the project assessed seaside towns' economic performance along with a set of associated common socioeconomic characteristics.
Colorful seaside village of Brixham Devon. Credit: Geoff Eccles, courtesy of Getty Images

Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) 

Defining ‘coastal’ Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) as those which include or overlap with built-up areas which lie within 500 metres of the ‘mean high water mark’ (excluding tidal rivers), Professor Asthana and Dr Gibson found the ONS dataset was omitting almost half of coastal residents from official ‘coastal’ statistics. This accounts for nearly 5 million people.
Coastal town

Future methodology for coastal community classification 

Led by Professor Sheena Asthana
Project team: Professor Sheela Agarwal, Dr Alex Gibson, Dr Yinghui Wei and Graham Moon (University of Southampton) 
The Centre for Coastal Communities is devising a robust methodology for classifying UK coastal communities, capturing similarities and differences between their coastal geographies and economic and social-ecological characters. The aim is to incorporate wide-ranging coastal stakeholder voices in the design of a policy-relevant approach through working with the ONS.
Dawlish Warren beach at sunrise
Coastal communities