Washed Up, June 30, 2015: Best beach, but best market town?

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Does anyone else groan out loud when yet another national paper jumps on the band-wagon of identifying ‘Britain’s best beach’?

Without fail, every spring, a journalist sitting in a sweaty office in London fondly remembers his or her Norfolk holiday when the sun shone out a big, blue sky and the beach rolled on for miles with barely another person in sight. So what does that miserable hack do? Of course, they name the beach – usually Holkham. They dig up a picture of a beach – usually Wells – and then they sit back and watch their words and images have their desired effect.

Every Friday evening the A10 and the A47 becomes a slow-moving trail of caravans, camper vans and four wheel drive vehicles. Curtains in houses in Holme, Thornham and Brancaster are flung back in the holiday cottages and second homes that sit empty throughout the dark months of February and March.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, or more likely Waitrose delivery vans add to the traffic chaos as the drivers deliver all the things that the holiday makers clearly feel they cannot buy from the local shops; visitors take pictures of the ‘Freshly caught crab’ or the ‘Mussels’ sign in front of the tiny house that nestles among the renovated millionaire pads.

Not that the tourists are unwelcome, very far from it. Visitors from Hertfordshire, London, and Cambridgeshire bring the money that keeps the local economy alive – in some places that economy is thriving. The coastal route from Hunstanton to Wells; the inland villages of Ringstead, Fring, Sedgeford; the royal triangle of Sandringham, Anmer and East Rudham, these villages all benefit from being in close proximity to the ‘best beach in the UK’.

Two distinct problems are caused by the influx of visitors. One is often discussed, namely the creation of ghost villages in the off season.

When a two-bedroom house costs in excess of £500,000, then the local bar staff, waiting staff, gardeners, decorators and even teachers, nurses and police officers cannot afford to live within the community where they work.

The second problem is the increasing wealth gap between areas of West Norfolk. And King’s Lynn is suffering as a result. As the main town in West Norfolk, King’s Lynn should be the go-to town for visitors when the weather is not suited to beach activities. There is an independent cinema, a beautiful old quarter, a lively leisure centre and a well-maintained public swimming pool, to name just a few attractions.

But ask anyone who regularly journeys to the coast or owns a second home how well they know King’s Lynn and they are likely to name-check the Hardwick roundabout or make a disparaging comment about the population.

Can we change that? Yes, we can. We can big ourselves up to the visitors. We can invite them to try Lynn for themselves and we can point out the beauty that might not be as manicured or as obvious as some other places, but it is there. And secondly, we can encourage and support our council, businesses and town developers to make Lynn a place that a journalist might one day describe as ‘the best market town in the UK’.