When cheap flights become a thing of the past, people will once again yearn for good old British seaside resorts. So it’s about time we turned them into places where people might actually want to stay …
In my youth, air travel was something rather incredible. Something that the whole family looked forward to and normally did only once a year.
Not today – now you can hop on to an uncomfortable but dirt-cheap flight to almost anywhere. Air travel has become almost as common as getting on a train, but we forget that this is only a recent phenomenon and, with society and the government turning to green thinking, cheap flights can not last.
People are starting to care about their carbon footprints – there are internet sites and TV programmes dedicated to reducing carbon emissions. When people fly, they battle with the guilt that their carbon emissions are destroying the world.
If the government follows through on its threats – to start taxing the aviation industry on the true value of its fuel consumption and the impact of its carbon emission – ticket prices will jump sky high.
What happens next? People will inevitably fly less. So where will they go for their summer holidays? The answer is clear – the British seaside of course, and boy does it need some work before they arrive.
On a recent journey to north-east England (I plan to offset my emissions from that trip as soon as I get the chance) we passed through a coastal town and decided to stop by the sea. A hush fell over us as we drove through the outskirts of the town. We were surrounded by seemingly endless rows of campsites – field upon field of semi-permanent housing and site cabins. A feeling of emptiness floated across those fields, with the echo of a million holidays, rainy summers, and soggy sandals.
We found plenty of people at the beach but what we saw there was equally worrying. To the credit, I’m sure, of diligent cleaning campaigns, there was a beautiful sandy beach and clear water, but the scene was polluted by a sea of overweight families lolling in the sun.
So, we pondered, with all the fresh air and opportunities for exercise, why did the locals and holiday-makers look so unhealthy? Was it because they were suffering with withdrawal from their weekly television schedules?
Walking further we found a sinister mix of greasy chip shops, endless arcades, candy floss, doughnuts and beer
Or was it something else? The answer came to us in the foul stench of grease and chip fat wafting towards us. Walking further we found a sinister mix of greasy chip shops, endless arcades, candy floss, doughnuts and beer. We are certainly going to have to do better than this if, in future, it will be unjustifiable to escape these shores by air.
But equally, we must do better than the opposite end of the holiday spectrum, Dubai, where a colleague of mine recently made a weekend trip. Not only did he take two flights to get there but, after arriving, he gorged on everything non-environmentally friendly the city has to offer.
And why not? There’s a huge water park where you don’t even need to walk up to the water slide – they pump you up there with water jets. Golf is played on perfectly manicured grass – evidently watered constantly with desalinated water at huge financial and environmental cost.
The carbon footprint faux-pas of the weekend however, has to be the day spent at the massive indoor ski slope where the interior temperature is chilled to minus five degrees, while outside it’s a searing 42. Real snow falls from the “sky” and there’s a mid-slope “Swiss” ski chalet to service tired skiers.
I certainly wouldn’t argue that our coastal towns need to be more like Dubai. It is clear that the kind of British seaside we know and love will always have small-scale short-let living units. But, if we must have caravan parks, then can’t they be more interesting than simply car parks you live in for a few weeks? Why aren’t there developers and designers working in this industry? Who is rethinking the British coastal town?
It is beginning to happen. Blackpool’s urban regeneration company has launched a competition to redesign Blackpool’s seafront, which could mean a radical transformation of the city. Urban Splash is redeveloping the Midland Hotel in Morecambe and has launched a competition to rethink the rest of the town. On a smaller scale, the humble beach hut has experienced a resurgence in popularity – a recent competition to “reimagine the beach hut for the 21st century” saw entries from architects from around the world.
Hopefully this new wave of interest in coastal architecture will help us move on from chip fat and trailer parks.