Seaside resorts urged to step back in time: Weston-super-Mare tries to sweep away Sixties gaudiness and recapture Edwardian elegance

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The Independent Online
THE EDWARDIAN elegance of many of Britain's seaside resorts has been replaced by Sixties tat, according to the English Tourist Board. Many resorts with a proud heritage have opted instead for a candyfloss gloss and now they are suffering a loss of revenue.

The ETB believes that seaside resorts would be more attractive to visitors if they conserved their old buildings properly. Many charming Victorian and Edwardian seafronts have been ruined by poor-quality shopfronts, crude signs, car parks or simple neglect. Since 1980 there has been a 24 per cent reduction in the number of Britons taking holidays in Britain. When the decline began in the Sixties, many seaside resorts panicked and went down-market. Nevertheless, some 11 million trips, worth about pounds 2.4bn a year, are made by British families to the seaside each year.

John East, chairman of the ETB, said: 'Many British seaside resorts, developed in the late 19th and early 20th century, lacked resources to invest in updated accommodation, attractions and infrastructure needed to attract new generations of holidaymakers, and have consequently declined both as tourism destinations and as places to live and work.'

The board has helped Weston- super-Mare, near Bristol, to make the most of its proud heritage and hopes that this example may be copied by other seaside towns. Following advice from the Civic Trust, which is concerned with the quality of urban life, Weston-super-Mare has begun to improve its promenade and the adjoining area. Bob Acland, director of marketing for Woodspring District Council, which encompasses the town, said: 'The Civic Trust pointed out to us an untidy compound near the seafront where we kept a skip and hand trolleys to tidy up the beach. It only cost a few hundred pounds to move it. We are now planting shrubs and trees and it is already looking a lot better.'

The council has also modernised the Winter Gardens, built between the wars for dancing and entertainment, while preserving the historic frontage on the promenade. The Civic Trust's report on the resort suggests a long list of further changes which the council intends to make over the next few years. Many are not particularly expensive but will take time to implement because they require agreement of individuals or companies.

'Next we aim to improve Spider Lane, which is the main pedestrian route from the centre of the town down to the seafront,' Mr Acland said. 'We want to remove a wooden fence so that people can glimpse the seafront as they are approaching it.'

The plan for improving the resort also includes training in how to help visitors. A quarter of the town is employed in the tourist industry and the council aims to train them to show visitors the way or tell them what is on at the local theatre. There are also plans to provide entertainment on the beach and in the streets this summer and to make it easy for visitors to go to the nearby countryside.

Ken Lacey, a councillor, was sceptical about the plan at first but has been converted. 'We never had to sell ourselves before,' he said. 'But we realised that we had to do something so in 1989 we set up a marketing department for Weston and then it really took off.'

(Photograph omitted)