Do resort’s beaches really need flagging up?

FELIXSTOWE: The loss of the Blue Flag for Felixstowe’s main holiday beach this summer has left many people appalled, disappointed and angry.

Seafront traders and town centre shopkeepers claim it was an excellent marketing tool, helping to attract thousands of visitors to the resort over the past decade.

Indeed, Duncan Bannatyne – one of the world’s top businessmen – told Felixstowe its beach was its best asset and the seaside town should shout long and loud about it.

He couldn’t believe how lovely it was – long and sandy and clean. As it should be after �10million was spent on it.

But Suffolk Coastal council, which decided to withdraw from the Blue Flag this summer, says the bureaucracy associated with the award has become unnecessary and too expensive.

It would have had to spend an extra �15,000 this year to gain the award – none of that money on actually improving the resort.

Had it spent that on removing perfectly good noticeboards to put up new ones, painting ‘Blue Flag’ on the prom and putting up other signs at a time when Felixstowe needs new attractions and money is short, it would have been criticised and ridiculed for wasting public money at a time when the town needed new attractions.

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It was a no-win situation.

It is true, too, that nothing has changed – Felixstowe’s water quality is still excellent and will continue to be tested and the results posted for the public to see, the shore will be cleaned, and safety services are still in place. There will just not be a flag flying.

Not everyone is convinced though that losing the flag is a good move.

Some argue that you have to speculate to accumulate.

For the sake of �15,000 – 0.1 per cent of the council’s annual budget – it decided to withdraw the flag the resort has held for ten years.

Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannatyne, who knows a thing or two about making money, marketing and promotion, having amassed a fortune worth more than �300m, would probably argue that is money well spent to keep the resort in the national public eye, on a list of the country’s top 71 beaches.

Visiting to film his Seaside Rescue TV show, he – like many others, probably – expected little more than a massive container port, but found a delightful, charming resort which the world needed to know about.

If someone is deciding whether to visit a place they have not been to before, an Blue Flag speaks volumes and tells you the beach will be of a high quality, the sea water tested to high standards, and the shores clean.

What has also angered residents is that the decision not to go for the flag was made five months ago – but neither the town council or traders were told, removing the opportunity for debate or to try to raise the �15,000 needed some other way.

Charles Manning, owner of the funfair in Sea Road, said it was a very frustrating situation.

“It’s ridiculous – millions of pounds are spent on the beach to make it excellent and then they get rid of the Blue Flag,” he said.

“No-one has been asked for their opinion about whether we should have a flag or not. We had a meeting with the Felixstowe Futures group which is supposed to be regenerating the resort and looking after its future and they had no idea that we were not entering for the flag.

“It seems to be an arbitary decision made by one man sitting in an office at Woodbridge who doesn’t understand the needs of the seaside and in particular this resort.

“�15,000 is a drop in the ocean in a massive council budget.

“It’s like banging your head against a brick wall.”

Peter Dawes, chairman of Felixstowe Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said businesses were “extremely disappointed” and would be contacting Suffolk Coastal over the issue.

“As a chamber we were kept completely in the dark – no-one asked for our opinion or the impact it would have on the town,” said Mr Dawes.

“This sends out all the wrong signals. People know the Blue Flags, they look for it when it is announced and if Felixstowe hasn’t got one they will go to some other town that has.

“Suffolk Coastal keeps removing funding gradually each year – the website funding was pulled, advertising in hotels and on the ferries was pulled, car park charges have increased. This is a tourism town and we have got to promote it.”

Town and district councillor Mike Ninnmey said: “Felixstowe is not the sort of place you pass through – we have one way in or out and to bring new people here we have to market ourselves properly.

“I think it is absolutely appalling that we have decided not to enter for a Blue Flag after all the years we have had one – and at such a crucial time.

“It is an excellent marketing tool. Everyone recognises it and it will be the deal-breaker for many people deciding where to visit.”

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