Trying to get on the map? Be careful what you wish for

Rural Commission report on Yorkshire

In 2019, the Withernsea Pier and Promenade Association, representing the town of Withernsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire, asked for help in getting the town ‘on the map’. The Association hoped to raise sufficient funds to build a new pier, which might attract more visitors and help to revitalise the town. They even appealed for the prime minister to visit.

Withernsea, like many of the coastal towns around the UK, was suffering from a lack of employment opportunities and housing that young locals could afford to buy.

The town is half an hour’s drive from Hull, 18 miles along the A1033 across a largely flat landscape. Its lighthouse was built a quarter of mile inland from the coast, and now lies behind the town because the houses that have gone up since it was built in 1892 were constructed on the sand dunes that once extended to the shoreline. The lighthouse is no longer operational, and nowadays Withernsea has become a forgotten place of holiday parks and little else.

A Rural Commission report on neighbouring North Yorkshire gives a glimpse of what is going on in Withernsea.

The report says that the loss of young people (under the age of 45) living in the area, either through being unable to afford a home or the lack of employment opportunities, has created a £1.4 billion ‘hole’ in the local economy, based on average UK salaries. It claims that, if North Yorkshire had the same percentage of adults between the ages of 20 and 44 as the national average, it would equate to an additional 45,551 people living in the county.

An increased local population would attract additional funding for education, infrastructure, transport and economic investment. However, off-the-beaten-track areas, such as this, with few employment opportunities and poor digital connectivity, are problematic. At the heart of the report, the Rural Commission calls for devolution. It says:

“To enable this vision to become reality in the years and decades ahead, we call for the devolution of significant spending and decision-making powers, and for the creation of an advisory task force to help shape the necessary strategy and plans.”

However, getting on the map can bring in an influx of new people and could result in simply making living in the area even less affordable for young people, many of whom already have no choice but to move away for employment and affordable housing.

Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the size and type of property and area people choose to live. Countryside and coastal locations are high up on the wish list, and property searches since the start of the summer have increased hugely, particularly in pretty villages and seaside locations. Property prices have skyrocketed, with annual house price growth in places like Hemsby in Norfolk increasing by 22% on average.

So where does this leave the locals?