Coastal Towns and Cities: unique challenges, unique solutions

From port management and docklands regeneration to erosion and vulnerability to climate change, coastal towns and cities face unique challenges that require unique policy thinking to address. LGiU’s Hannah Muirhead explores some of these issues and takes a quick look at some interesting ways councils in Ireland and the UK are dealing with them.

We’ll start with the big obvious one. Sure, climate change will impact us all, but we can all probably agree that with rising sea levels and an increase in severe weather, coastal areas will probably get it worse – at least where flooding is concerned. Stop-gap relief and emergency response might seem like an economically appropriate solution while violent storms and severe coastal flooding remain infrequent incidents. But to prevent repeated social and economic losses as flooding from severe weather becomes a more common occurrence (as it will), building resilience in coastal communities will be vital.

Local authorities in the UK and Ireland are already looking at how they can ensure that resilience to coastal flooding is built in to new infrastructure and buildings. A Strategic Flood Risk Assessment identified a risk of coastal flooding in certain areas of Dublin’s Poolbeg West SDZ and, in response, the need for flood resilient urban and building design and construction was highlighted in the planning scheme.

Such measures are already being built into coastal developments in Dundee, Scotland. It was confirmed by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency [SEPA] that the site of the new V&A was at risk of coastal flooding. Dundee City Council carried out a detailed coastal flood study, the results of which were taken into account when designing the building. To ensure resilience to flooding, the floor has been set at five metres above sea level, with door openings that will allow flood barriers to be inserted if needed. Additionally, almost £7 million (€7.7 million) is currently being spent upgrading the sea wall along the waterfront to protect this and other parts of the larger waterfront development from storm surges.

Of course, the direct encroachment of the the sea itself is not the only challenge facing cities on the coast. Industries that typically grew around sea-based communities have been in decline for decades, which presents these communities with two challenges: sustaining and maintaining ports and docks in an age where seafaring is not a hugely popular pastime, and where they aren’t able to be sustained, repurposing and regenerating them.

Back in Scotland, Aberdeen Harbour has been a port for the last nine hundred years, a feat which Alistair Mackenzie, Chairman of the Aberdeen Harbour Board attributes to it having been able to “adapt to changing trading requirements and being forward-thinking in delivering new and improved facilities to support its customers, while at the same time attracting new business”.

Sure enough, the harbour is about to enter a new phase of its life with the commencement of a £350 million (€384 million) project to expand and improve its facilities and diversify its market to attract new customers. The development will ensure the port will be able to accommodate the trend for larger vessels, and see that it is able to welcome a more significant share of the available cruise ships. Additionally, with the decline of the shipping industry comes the rise of decommissioning industry, and the expansion will allow for an upscaling of the harbour’s boat-breaking activities.

More often than not though, harbours, docks, and other such maritime infrastructure can’t be maintained for its original purpose, and falls derelict. Over the last couple of decades, coastal cities from Glasgow to Dublin to Bristol have experienced successful repurposing and regeneration to the extent that, as research from earlier this year found, people will pay up to 46% more to live in regenerated dockside areas compared to the citywide averages.

Liverpool, long considered a classic example of docklands regeneration done well, has plans for the dilapidated North Docks area that go beyond regeneration into innovation. The city’s Ten Streets Creative Zone is to be a hub for the creative economy where tech companies and creative enterprises can thrive alongside artistic organisations. The development will create 2,500 jobs, and be a beacon of renewable energy, efficient transport, and creative innovations – including the UK’s first revolving theatre.

Shipping-related industries are not the only coastal enterprises to have suffered from decline. The ability to transport your family of five to the south of Spain for little more than the price of the weekly supermarket shop has taken its toll on seaside industries across Ireland and the UK. The city of Sunderland, with its once prosperous and vibrant beachfronts, was no exception, but since 2009, when consultations first began, there has been almost continuous development of the seafront areas of Seaburn and Roker.

Developments at Roker include the creation of the Marine Walk, award-winning feature lighting on the promenade, a £1 million (€1.1 million) hotel refurbishment, and the resurfacing of Roker Pier. The improvements so far have won an award from the RTPI. In 2015 a partnership between Carillion and Sunderland City Council launched a 20-year regeneration programme which includes further development of Seaburn – transforming the dilapidated promenade into a “superb seaside destination, with seafront cafes, restaurants and leisure spaces, backed with new houses and apartments for residents”. Since the redevelopments began, there have been reports of increased footfall, with the seafront “becoming an increasingly vibrant, bustling part of the city”.

We’ve only really scratched the surface of the geographically specific issues cities on the coast are dealing with, so stay tuned for a more in-depth briefing on how coastal towns and cities here (and indeed around the world) are innovating to create resilient, thriving environments despite the social and environmental challenges they’re facing.

If your council has any examples of interesting ways they’re addressing challenges in coastal towns/cities in Ireland, that you would like to be included in the briefing, please get in touch with hannah.muirhead@lgiuireland.ie by the beginning of September.

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