Coastal Cities: unique challenges, unique solutions

From port management and docklands regeneration to erosion and vulnerability to climate change, coastal cities face unique challenges that require unique solutions. LGiU Scotland’s Hannah Muirhead explores some of these issues and takes a look at what coastal city councils are doing about them.

Climate change will impact us all, but with rising sea levels and an increase in severe weather, coastal areas will get it worse – at least where flooding is concerned. Stopgap relief and emergency response might seem like an economically appropriate solution while violent storms and severe coastal flooding remain infrequent incidents. But to prevent repeated social and economic losses as flooding from severe weather becomes  more common, building resilience in coastal communities will be vital.

Local authorities in the UK are already looking at how they can ensure that resilience to coastal flooding is built into new infrastructure and buildings. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has confirmed that the site of the new V&A in Dundee is at risk of coastal flooding. To ensure resilience to this, the floor has been set at five metres above sea level, with door openings that will allow flood barriers to be inserted if needed. Additionally, almost £7 million is currently being spent upgrading the sea wall along the waterfront to protect this and other parts of the larger waterfront development from storm surges.

The direct encroachment of the sea itself is not the only challenge facing cities on the coast. Industries that grew around sea-based communities have been in decline for decades, which presents coastal cities with two challenges: sustaining and maintaining ports and docks in an age where seafaring is not a hugely popular pastime; and, where they aren’t able to be sustained, repurposing and regenerating them.

Aberdeen Harbour has been a port for the last nine hundred years, a feat which Alistair Mackenzie, Chairman of the Aberdeen Harbour Board attributes to it having been able to “adapt to changing trading requirements and being forward-thinking in delivering new and improved facilities to support its customers, while at the same time attracting new business”.

Sure enough, the harbour is about to enter a new phase of its life with a £350 million project to expand and improve its facilities and diversify its market to attract new customers. This means the port will be able to accommodate larger vessels and welcome a more significant share of cruise ships. Additionally, with the decline of the shipping industry comes the rise of the decommissioning industry, and the expansion will allow for an upscaling of the harbour’s boat-breaking activities.

More often than not, though, harbours, docks, and other maritime infrastructure can’t be maintained for their original purposes, and become derelict. Over the last couple of decades, coastal cities across the UK and Ireland have undergone successful repurposing and regeneration. As research from earlier this year found, people will pay up to 46% more to live in regenerated dockside areas compared to the citywide averages.

Liverpool, long considered a classic example of docklands regeneration done well, has plans for the dilapidated North Docks area that go beyond regeneration into innovation. The city’s Ten Streets Creative Zone is to be a hub for the creative economy where tech companies and creative enterprises can thrive alongside artistic organisations. The development, in an area which contains the UK’s poorest ward (Kirkdale), will create 2,500 jobs. It will also be a beacon of renewable energy, efficient transport, and creative innovations – including the UK’s first revolving theatre.

Shipping-related industries are not the only coastal enterprises to have suffered from decline. The ability to transport your family of five to the south of Spain for little more than the price of the weekly supermarket shop has taken its toll on the British seaside industry. The city of Sunderland, with its once prosperous and vibrant beachfronts, was no exception. But since 2009, there has been almost continuous development of the seafront areas of Seaburn and Roker.

Developments at Roker include the creation of the Marine Walk, award-winning feature lighting on the promenade, a £1 million hotel refurbishment, and the resurfacing of Roker Pier. The improvements so far have won an award from the RTPI. In 2015 a partnership between Carillion and Sunderland City Council launched a 20-year regeneration programme which includes further development of Seaburn – transforming the dilapidated promenade into a “superb seaside destination, with seafront cafes, restaurants and leisure spaces, backed with new houses and apartments for residents”. Since the redevelopments began, there have been reports of increased footfall, with the seafront “becoming an increasingly vibrant, bustling part of the city”.

We’ve only really scratched the surface of the geographically specific issues cities on the coast are dealing with, so stay tuned for a more in-depth briefing on how coastal cities here (and indeed around the world) are innovating to create resilient, thriving environments despite facing significant social and environmental challenges.

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Copyright David Baird and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.