Eastern Arc and the coast

The Eastern Arc region stretches across the East and South-East of England, from the Wash to the Channel. It’s a region of contrasts, with areas of significant prosperity and stark deprivation, of urban centres and agricultural richness, of natural beauty and historic significance, of trade, transport, migration and movement. 

A central element of our current work is to explore how the opportunities of our region can be leveraged to address its needs, particularly in our coastal towns and communities (CTCs). The map to the right shows how our universities are within or close to areas of multiple deprivation, and how our coast more broadly represents significant need. 

Identifying need, advocating for change

By speaking with a unified voice, we are able to amplify and make clear our position to politicians, policy-makers, and funders. 

Evidencing our case

To evidence our case for the coast, we commissioned a report that demonstrated the current economic and social situation for our CTCs. This highlighted that:

  • EARC coastal districts are all in the top 20% of the most deprived areas in England 
  • They have the lowest average pay in the region
    • 95% of areas fall below the national average
  • They have the lowest skills and education in the region
  • Life expectancy across the Eastern Arc area is lower on the coast
    • In a third of districts it was lower than the national average
  • They have the highest numbers of people living in fuel poverty across the region

We also commissioned a report on heritage in the Eastern Arc area, making the case for its value in placemaking and identity, but also the threat it faces from climate change and theft. This was well received by the heritage sector and is being used as a template for similar work in other parts of the country. 

The importance of place

We built on this by publishing a booklet showing what we were doing to address these and allied issues, highlighting Eastern Arc’s engagement with our region. It offered the context necessary to understand our position when it came to the Government’s plans for levelling up, which were published two months later. 

Response to the levelling-up white paper

Shortly after the Levelling-Up White Paper was published, we gave our response to it. Briefly, we stated that we welcomed its mission-based approach, devolution and empowerment of communities, but that we had two significant reservations. 

First, we were not convinced that the targets and actions were sufficiently long-term, nor that there was the political consensus to make the change a sustainable reality. 

Second, we were concerned about the explicit framing and implicit narrative around the greater south east, which was seen as an area of prosperity in less need of support (including R&D spend). We called on the government to take a more granular and nuanced approach to need, in both communities and the R&D sector. 

Facilitation and collaboration

Leading on from this, we are beginning to map out a comprehensive directory of those at our universities working on issues related to the coast, in both the natural environment, society, economy, culture and health, as well as the 30+ centres, institutes and networks that act as a focus for them, .

‘The Collaborative Coast’ Conference, Sept 2022

Our conference 2022 brought many of these colleagues together with stakeholders in the region. 160 delegates joined us at the University of Essex campus. They came from the three EARC universities, but a third also came from external bodies, from local authorities, NHS Trusts, charities, funders and other organisations.

Issues covered included:

  • Implementing the Whitty Report, including a recorded address to the Conference by Chris Whitty, and a panel discussion including the Director of Public Health for Essex County Council, the Deputy Director of PH for Kent, and the Chair for Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care Board.
  • Sustainable Coastal Ecosystems and Opportunities for Development, including collaborations with business partners to develop seaweed and other marine resources.
  • Art and Culture as a Driver for Placemaking and Levelling Up, including a range of case studies from across the region, and pan-regional initiatives to support them (such as England’s Creative Coast and Creative Estuary).

We have built on its momentum in two ways:

Blue-Green Regeneration

Working with the keynote speaker (Jules Pretty, University of Essex), the EARC Director has  developed a proposal or ‘manifesto’ that provides a ‘vision of hope’ for CTCs, built around ten priorities for policy and practice. We will use this as a framework for development.

The Coda (Coastal Data) Network

Chris Whitty’s report highlighted the ‘paucity of data’ as a significant contributor to the coastal ‘health deficit’.He recommended that this should be addressed to support the development of policies aimed at improving the health of coastal communities. 

Eastern Arc took the first steps towards this by hosting two workshops to discuss with key regional stakeholders the landscape of coastal health data. Over 50 participants took part, including academics, researchers, data analysts and data owners. Participants represented over 25 organisations, including universities, NHS trusts, local authorities, charities and third sector organisations. 

Since then, we have established the Coda Network, which is currently developing a proposal that will be submitted to Research England. Led by four local authorities (Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent county councils), the proposal seeks to improve the communication and analytical capacity between universities, local authorities and organisations on the ground tasked with addressing public health. 

We will continue to support our members and stakeholders in identifying need and developing opportunities, advocating on their behalf, and facilitating productive, cross-disciplinary collaborations that will play a significant part in addressing the long-standing, intractible issues of our coast.