Shadow Cabinet to brace seaside chill

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Indy Politics

Today may not be an obvious day to spend beside the seaside. But 10 members of David Cameron's Shadow Cabinet will brave the elements to campaign in Britain's coastal towns.

On their last working day before their Christmas break, senior Tories will outline plans to tackle unemployment, crime and coastal erosion in towns they claim missed out on the “Brown boom” and have suffered badly in the “bust” that followed.

The shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling is off to a very chilly Dover, shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague is going to Cleethorpes and shadow Chancellor George Osborne to Penzance and Newquay. Tory chairman Eric Pickles will be in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, Nick Herbert (environment) in Portsmouth and Caroline Spelman (local government) in Morecambe and Fleetwood. Tynemouth, Wallsend and Brighton will receive visits.

There is a shrewd political calculation in the shadow ministers’ blitz. While election experts often predict that the traditional marginals in the West Midlands and North West will decide next year’s general election, Tory strategists hope they have discovered a secret weapon: the seaside town “swing” seats. At least 15 of the Tories’ top 100 target seats fall into this category, as do another 11 in their next 100 most winnable seats. “They could make all the difference in a tight election,” said one Tory frontbencher yesterday.

The Tories claim these places have been left literally “at the end of the line” and neglected by the Government, dubbing them Britain’s “Cinderella” towns. According to the Tories, since 1999, violent crime has increased by an average of 78 per cent in many of the largest seaside towns, nearly double the overal increase for England and Wales. It has more than tripled in Bournemouth and doubled in Blackpool.

Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, said yesterday: “Our seaside towns, so important for the tourist industry and wider economy, are suffering more from violent crime than many other areas. Labour have shown they have no fresh ideas to tackle violence in our communities, often fuelled by binge drinking.”

The Tories argue that the Government has no firm idea how many homes are at risk of being lost to the sea, despite the impact of climate change. National coastal erosion mapping, due to be available last year, is running at least two years late.

Whitehall officials assume that 200 residential homes will be lost over the next 20 years, with an additional 2,000 at risk, but the Tories say this is based on feedback from local authorities and fails to account for climate change projections or the thousands of holiday homes that could also be threatened.

Nick Herbert, the shadow Environment Secretary, said: “We know that climate change will bring increased risk of coastal erosion and flooding and without coastal erosion maps our seaside communities are unable to plan ahead and put in place measures needed to help safeguard homes and businesses.”

He said urgent measures were needed to help reduce coastal flood risk to give our coastal communities greater powers to influence decisions over local defences. A Tory Government would also negotiate with insurers to ensure that as many people as possible who live near the coast have access to flood insurance.

Labour ministers insist they have taken action to help coastal towns achieve their full economic potential and tackle social and environmental problems. Studies for the Government suggest the towns face different challenges and that there is “no single solution” that can be applied to every area.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Regional and local approaches are needed which deliver the most effective solutions, reflecting the specific requirements of individual coastal towns and their inter-relationships with the surrounding area.”