One of the starkest local images from the lockdown was of Great Yarmouth seafront empty of visitors and closed down over the sunny Easter Bank Holiday. As Norfolk’s top coastal resort, with a visitor economy worth more than £635m a year, we had to do something as a council I never thought we would ever do: ask visitors to stay away.
Our work with partners to reopen and promote our leisure sector under social distancing is critical to our success as a place, as we support our local community and economy through recovery. We also need to continue to drive forward our longer-term investment and regeneration plans for the future of our seafront and town centre.
Soon, we’ll be launching a new destination marketing campaign welcoming people to visit responsibly, working with our Tourism and Town Centre Business Improvement Districts. In our busiest tourism and shopping hotspots, we’re helping people to keep their distance in the streets by introducing temporary public realm and highways measures. During the school holidays, Great Yarmouth’s population usually doubles, so we need to plan on a larger scale, keep monitoring the situation and be prepared to make changes as necessary.
Looking ahead, there are challenges and opportunities. While fewer people travelling abroad for holidays could benefit British coastal resorts this summer, there remains the longer-term need for resorts and town centres to diversity and adapt their offer.
We are speaking with tourism business leaders about the possibility of opening for a winter season this year, and we continue to progress our tourism and cultural strategy, which better links these offers.
Alongside our COVID-19 operational response, we progressed our strategic projects and place-based growth agenda, including town centre and seafront regeneration.
We are building a new £26m seafront leisure centre and have just submitted a robust business case to the Future High Streets Fund, asking for £19.9m towards a £50m package of interventions to transform and revive the town centre.
The financial impact on councils of coronavirus will be significant, and additional Government funding is essential to not only support in-year budgets, but also to ensure delivery of our regeneration ambitions do not falter, particularly as they are more important than ever to support longer-term recovery.
Sheila Oxtoby is chief executive of Great Yarmouth BC