Our region contains over 6 million people, most of whom live less than an hour’s drive from the coast, and many of whom, particularly in Merseyside, who live much closer to it. Our coastal settlements range in size from small communities such as Glasson, Lancashire and Ravenglass, Cumbria – both with just over 300 inhabitants – to the major urban conurbation of Liverpool with over 700,000 inhabitants, and there is huge variety in the type of settlement and the role they play for those who live in, work in or visit them.

Our coast hosts iconic resort towns such as Blackpool, Southport and Morecambe. Smaller resorts include Silloth and West Kirby. There are the major ports of Liverpool, Heysham and Fleetwood, and smaller but important ports such as Workington and Barrow, together with their associated communities. The vibrant urban connurbation of Liverpool with its historic Maritime Mercantile City World Heritage waterfront is not far from smaller seaside communities such as Crosby – home to the Another Place artwork – and Formby – home to an important population of red squirrels. Further north communities such as Lytham, Silverdale, Grange-over-Sands and Maryport provide a range of attractions and key local services to both inhabitants and visitors.

Coastal communities in the North West are both within and surrounded by nationally and internationally important heritage, landscape and environmental sites. These are wonderful assets which can attract people to the coast to live, or to visit. But there are major challenges with living on the coast in the longer term, particularly with regard to the likely impacts of climate change where coastal communities are at the forefront of issues such as sea level rise and increased storminess.

A study commissioned by the North West Coastal Forum in 2009 showed that our coastal communities share several characterisitics in common with many other coastal areas across the UK: compared to the regional average they have an older demographic profile; deprivation is generally higher; incomes are lower and the proportion of benefit claimants higher. However the study also showed that around one third of the region’s population lives on the coast and that coastal settlements host one in four of the region’s jobs, so the importance of our coastal communities to both the regional economy and the well being of the region’s inhabitants should not be overlooked.