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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Port and Coastal Towns Network established to improve sustainability of urban systems and infrastructure around the UK’s coast

Published: 23 March 2022
A port town in the UK.

The Port and Coastal Towns Network will connect academics and seldom-heard communities across the country to undertake new, ground-breaking research.

Despite the potential benefits of a coastal location, many port and coastal towns and cities are run-down and unattractive, underperforming in economic and social wellbeing terms. Widespread factors include a poor built environment, derelict industrial and other legacy sites, the decline in traditional tourism and the poor connectivity to the waterfront.

Rising sea levels and coastal erosion pose further major challenges, all this demands innovation in rethinking and making our coastal towns and ports more resilient. These issues are common to port and coastal cities and towns all around the UK, transcending simplistic north/south or east/west divisions.

The UKRI-funded Port and Coastal Towns Network will identify people-focused, infrastructure-based solutions to the complex problem of improving social well-being and prosperity in coastal communities through resilient and sustainable regeneration. A key emphasis will be on taking advantage of the coastal location.

The Network is led by SMMI expert Professor William Powrie (University of Southampton) with Dr Jasna Mariotti (Queen’s University Belfast) and Professors Leon Cruickshank (Lancaster), Becky Lunn (Strathclyde) and Robert Nicholls (East Anglia). Professor Marie Harder (Brighton) will give specialist input on user community engagement, through the WeValue process.

The network already includes academics from Dundee, Newcastle and Swansea Universities and the first step will be to develop the network more widely to engage researchers and users from a wide range of disciplines and locations.

Research questions will be based around a number of key themes

  • Connectivity with the coast
  • Inclusive infrastructure
  • Maintaining and enhancing resilience
  • Coastal region transport
  • Nature-inspired, human scale engineering

These will be investigated in collaboration with communities and project partners Southampton City Council, Lancaster City Council, Eden North and Coastal Partnership East (a partnership of North Norfolk District Council, Great Yarmouth Borough Council, Waveney District Council and Suffolk Coastal District Council).

Southampton, North Norfolk and Morecambe encapsulate the issues faced by the spectrum of ports and coastal towns eg challenges of a working port, declining seaside resorts and historic communities with an ageing population facing coastal erosion and sea-level rise.

Network activities will commence with a series of community-based workshops to identify key issues and potential solutions. There will then be a period of about 12 months during which selected pilot studies in the range of £50,000-£100,000 will be conducted and road-tested as a basis to attract further funding.

In this way the Port and Coastal Towns Network will become a thriving and established, collaborative research and user community that will develop and see implemented sustainable infrastructure solutions to improve the wellbeing, resilience and sustainability of the UK’s coastal settlements for decades to come.

If you’d like to know more, or join the network, please contact


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