Sun shines, but the tide ebbs for South Coast

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The Independent Online
"THIS IS the last weekend," said the deck-chair man in a melancholy tone. "Soon the military band will stop playing, the chairs will go away and the kiosks will close down. In terms of sea front, there will be little left."

Moving among sunbathing pensioners on the beach at Eastbourne, his mind was on the past. "In the Fifties, there were 15,000 deck chairs, now there are about 1,000. One in five people in the town is employed by the tourist industry but we are now dependent on day-trippers."

He could have been speaking on the beach at any seaside town in Britain. It has been a slow season, and this is the last chance to make money before the shutters go up. Kiss-Me-Quick hats and beach balls do not sell well in winter.

Roads to coastal areas were congested yesterday, as even those who had spent their summer holidays in foreign climes chose to chase the last sunrays of summer. The fine weather was expected to continue over most of the country today, with rain coming from the west later.

The end of August always sees the last great flourish of open-air English eccentricity. Elvis look-alikes sweated in their jumpsuits at a convention in Worthing, while the emus at a zoo in Seaford had to be hosed down in 70F heat.

Shark hunters headed for Cornwall, to catch a glimpse of the 15ft beast spotted by fishermen off Padstow, even though it will probably be as elusive as the eclipse. An amateur cameraman had filmed what he thought was a great white, yards from a beach where children swam. Others dismissed it as a harmless basking shark.

Inflatables may be safe on Mediterranean hotel beaches, but coastguards had to warn us about using them around Britain after they saved a child swept out to sea off Studland beach near Swanage, Dorset.

A record 260 British beaches now hold awards for cleanliness and basic European standards on water quality, but ever fewer of us seem willing to spend more than the occasional bank holiday sitting on one.

Since the Eighties, much surplus holiday accommodation has become a dumping ground for homeless benefits claimants and asylum seekers. When the silly hats and candy floss have gone, many resorts become an ugly army of gloomy guest houses. Far from enticing tourists, they have become homes for the dispossessed.

The Government unveiled a pounds 14m regeneration programme for seaside resorts last month. "Many of these resorts have seen a severe, albeit long-term, decline," said Janet Anderson, the tourism minister.

Bournemouth Borough Council, for example, is supporting a proposal from the British Surfing Association to create "better wave quality" by building an artificial reef. It remains to be seen whether they can really turn back the tide.