Aco Water - How to fix the UK’s seaside towns

May 2019

A recent parliamentary report has shown that seaside towns are in desperate need of reinvention. With a need to move away from the ‘national embarrassment’ they have become, attention should turn towards how to re-energise these nostalgic, yet often overlooked, locations.

In need of granting better access via public transport, and a refreshed look and attitude towards the UK’s seaside towns, it is a challenge that the country cannot afford to ignore. However, careful consideration is needed to turn these struggling areas into sustainable, aesthetically-pleasing towns, as Gary Morton, Head of Client Engagement ACO Water Management discusses.
While a lot of beach-goers prefer to book exotic trips across the globe, it does not spell the end of the British seaside. One of the biggest opportunities for local councils, whose seaside town centres are feeling the pinch from limited investment, is to transform them into must-visit destinations and restore pride for the local residents. However, in order for this to become a reality, there are a number of challenges to overcome.

Planning for climate change
A long-term vision is essential if the UK is going to be successful in implementing changes across its seaside towns. This must include the changes the UK is experiencing in its weather patterns. The 2018 summer saw records broken as the country basked in one of the longest heatwaves in recent memory. However, this is a far cry to the weather warnings which have since been issued by the Met Office, with Storm Deirdre and the so-called Beast from the East battering parts of the UK in recent years.

As snow and rainstorms continue making headlines over the winter months, seaside towns are particularly vulnerable. With high winds come large waves and the sea can become a treacherous risk for local residents, causing destruction to homes, roads and community spaces.

When plans are being submitted to reinvigorate our seaside towns, what can be done to reduce these risks? Robust water management systems could play a much more significant part, especially when designing for resilience is a prerequisite.
Correct calculation of the hydraulic requirements of the area in question, can easily prevent unsightly surface water flooding during periods of heavy rain. Equally, if the drainage is not regularly maintained, it will not perform correctly when adverse weather occurs. It is therefore crucial that seaside developers speak with water management specialists to calculate the loading requirements of the surrounding areas.

Access and pedestrianisation
Many of the UK’s seaside towns are guilty of looking run-down and cluttered. One way to transform these areas could be to take a ‘Shared Space’ approach, first pioneered in The Netherlands. This approach was successfully deployed at Layton District Centre in Blackpool, and should be considered as an example to follow for future regeneration projects.

As part of the plan, the core objectives from Blackpool Council were to create a visually appealing area, with street furniture and high quality road and footpath surfaces, while using attractive materials.

The project saw the central reservation transform into a pedestrian island, with barriers removed and replaced with lighting, benches and trees. To produce the feel of a must-visit town, ACO worked directly with the engineers to devise a new method of tailoring the finish of the material to precisely match the designer’s colour requirements. To blend with the surface textures of the surrounding materials, each section of ACO’s KerbDrain and RoadDrain was subjected to a series of new surface treatment and conditioning processes which exposed the aggregate beneath the surface to the desired degree.

As a result of this process, ACO can now manufacture its range of polymer concrete systems to a range of aesthetic specifications and boundary configurations. This allows traffic scheme designers to incorporate bespoke Shared Spaces in centres bringing attractive, vibrant and inclusive areas integrating both road users and the surrounding environment.

Selecting the right products
For any council looking to breathe new life into a seaside town, considering the history of the buildings surrounding the area is key. For example, at the Abbey Sands project in Torquay – a contemporary interpretation of early 20th-century British seaside architecture was built on a site which had suffered fire damage. Complementing the local history, the seafront now benefits from a new six storey, mixed-use development.

The scheme, which sits in the centre of Torquay’s mile-long promenade, includes four restaurants, 14 open-market apartments and 14 serviced apartments with parking. To ensure the design was unobtrusive for the historic location, ACO worked with the developers and suggested its Brickslot drainage for the outside areas between the waterfront, promenade and nearby Royal Terrace Gardens.
Open to the elements and in a highly saline environment, selecting the right products is vital if the UK is going to design resilient seaside towns. Small considerations can make a big difference such as selecting stainless steel grating which has been treated for potential oxidisation from the sea air. This can ensure the appearance of public realm areas remain part of a town’s attraction to both local people and tourists alike.

Final thoughts
There is a real opportunity for the UK to breathe new life into its seaside towns. With the topic gathering real interest in Parliament, now is the time to capitalise and create desirable locations worth visiting. If it is going to be a success, then all stakeholders – from councils through to architects, landscape designers and developers, need to work together. Designing a robust seaside town, which has the look and feel of an up-and-coming city centre, is achievable, and while careful consideration of the elements and history behind the areas is required, it shouldn’t deter councils from realising the potential of the UK seaside.
For more information about ACO’s range of water management solutions for seaside environments, please visit