It is, of course, easy to romanticise the exquisite beauty of the Suffolk Heritage Coast: from the Edwardian splendour of Felixstowe’s pleasure gardens to the genteel seaside swagger of Southwold; Britten’s overtures radiating from Aldeburgh and Snape; marsh reeds swaying across the county; birdsong everywhere. And that’s not forgetting the romantic delight of long and thoughtful estuary, cliff and beachside walks; the odd pint of Broadside or Ghost Ship in one of many quintessentially English pubs along the way. From Sutton to Slaughden, the Deben to Dunwich, ours is a coastline rich in folklore – villages and towns, smart buildings and remote barns holding secrets of history and Suffolk people.
But despite the wonder and occasional media pastiche, Suffolk remains a complex and sometimes troubled county. Many fail to see the shocking gaps in literacy and life expectancy between wards across the region; real challenges of rural unemployment, in-work and fuel poverty. The 2019 End Child Poverty report catalogues over 50,000 children living in poverty in Suffolk. This is a harsh reality – a long way from picture-postcard idylls of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There is no beauty in an unseen underbelly.
Brexit was always going to bring new challenges to the Heritage Coast – from jobs and farming to tourism. It raised the question: what sort of place do we really want to be? Encroaching talk of “The Energy Coast” muddied waters further still – a rush to opportunity that seemed wilfully blind to the fact that the coastline and area did not need re-branding. The Heritage Coast seemed fine before, as it should now.
The COVID-19 crisis, of course, changes everything. It’s true that the impact will not be known for some time yet. Uncertainty will linger. Some have used the lockdown period to reflect on what kind of society we really want: how we hope to live and work; what is important to friends and family; our present and future legacy. How we can build back better – from jobs and infrastructure, travel and tourism, to energy and the environment?
The latter is, for us, of critical importance. Locally, the Heritage Coast is already a vulnerable coast: threats of erosion and flooding, intensified by climate change, are well-evidenced. Globally, the climate emergency was very real before the pandemic struck and is just as acute now. Better thinking and concrete actions are needed to move faster towards a Net Zero Carbon future. A Net Zero world by 2050 is a noble ambition but there is scant evidence we will get there. Consequences of climate change, assuming current trajectories, start to accelerate from 2030 – we need to reflect on the great fires of Australia and floods of Indonesia that seem a lifetime away now but were in fact dominating the news channels only months ago. We need changes in lifestyles, not just changes in policy on fossil fuels.
The better society re-set of COVID-19 should be an opportunity, not a threat.
It’s our hope that the Heritage Coast leads the way in positive lifestyle changes and net-zero thinking. Hence this publication, which captures what is best about the Heritage Coast – its history and delight – and explores big ideas for a shared future. It is co-authored by a mix of expert specialists, campaigners, business leaders, policy-makers and local residents.
There is a piece on energy innovation, which signals how we might think differently and invest to rise to the challenges of the climate crisis, together with a deeper dive on how we can, together, make the idea of a Net Zero Heritage Coast real – in transport and travel; tourism; agriculture, food and drink. How can we green our energy supply, towards a Net Zero future? How can we create jobs at scale that support greener thinking and environment-friendly outcomes? And how can we harness the power of “local”, politically and commercially, to make it all happen with the Heritage Coast at the forefront of national, perhaps global, thinking?
We are framing this in terms of Future Heritage and Our Heritage as a region. It is because it is our heritage that we invite you to contribute to the journey ahead.
Dr. Andy Wood, Chief Executive, Adnams plc.
Robert Phillips, Founder, Jericho Chambers and convenor of the Sizewell Community Working Group.