Countryside and Community Research Unit

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The Sefton Coast

This area is characterised by a long stretch of dunes and sandy beaches and a number of rare species such as red squirrels, natterjack toads and sand lizards. The coastline is managed by a variety of organisations including Sefton Council, RSPB, National Trust, English Nature and a number of golf courses and military sites. Southport is located in the north of the Borough and in the Victorian era this was an important resort; currently there are attempts to re-establish it as a short break destination. It remains popular with day visitors. The southern part of the coast forms part of the Liverpool Freeport, managed by the Merseyside Docks and Harbour Centre. The Sefton Coast Partnership is developing the area in order to improve visitor facilities and to this end has drawn on visitor survey information.
There are a number of designated areas along the coast including SSSIs, Ramsar sites, Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation. The Sefton Coast has the status of Special Area of Conservation. Popular tourist sites include the RSPB’s Marshside Nature Reserve, the National Trust Property at Formby, Ainsdale Beach and the Ainsdale Discovery Centre and the coastal footpath. Site managers coordinate their work through the Sefton Coast Partnership and there is support for improvements to facilities and for green tourism initiatives and green(er) transport projects.

The Wirral Shore

The Wirral peninsular lies between the Dee and Mersey Estuaries and the coast comprises clay cliff; sandy beaches, salt marsh, dunes, woodland, promenades, shipbuilding yards and docks. Wirral’s traditional seaside resort of New Brighton has declined in recent years although some regeneration has begun. The North Wirral and Dee shoreline is mainly undeveloped and utilised for a variety of recreational purposes including walking, horse-riding, cycling, sailing, golf, windsurfing, water skiing and jet skiing. Saltmarsh areas have expanded in recent years and are popular with bird watchers – events are organised. Wirral Council has developed some facilities for visitors along the shore including the popular information centre at Thurstason, Leasowe Lighthouse, the sailing school at West Kirby and the Wirral Way coastal footpath. The Council has been keen to see other facilities developed (Quality of Coastal Towns Interreg 11c Project, Merseyside Coast Visitor Research 2000 Summary Document).

The area of Merseyside therefore contains a diverse range of landscapes and visitor and educational opportunities which currently are being developed further through the activities of various partnerships including the Mersey Partnership.
2) Visitor Characteristics and Use of the Area

A study by WS Atkins and Geoff Broom Associates (2000) ‘Assessment of Coastal Visitors Facilities’ identified five main market segments:

  • Local residents living in the Merseyside Area

  • Day visits to the coast from home from outside Merseyside

  • Holidaymakers staying in the local area

  • Holidaymakers staying outside Merseyside but making day visits in the area

  • Education, school and college groups and individual students

It was anticipated that by 2008 there would be 4.8 million visits to the Merseyside Coast with a visitor spend reaching £71.4 million. A report prepared by Helen Steward for the ‘Quality of Coastal Towns’ Project on visitors to the Sefton and Wirral coasts found that visitors would have liked to see more facilities developed, although the number of paths was highly rated for both areas. It was more common for local people to take buses to the areas than visitors from further afield; car usage was found to be higher for the Wirral than Sefton. Those with disabilities were keen to see better facilities such as toilets, transport provision, more disabled parking availability, a firmer path through the dunes and wheel chair hire. A bird watching survey was also carried out and 141 questionnaires were returned by bird watchers. It was found that 65% were over 55 years; 59% were male and 36% were visiting by themselves. Interestingly over half of them were local residents on a day trip. 77% of these were members of the RSPB. To underline the fact that most visitors were appreciators/users of open space, around half of all responses to the question ‘what do visitors like best about their visit?’ cited the peacefulness of the coast and unique landscape. Sefton respondents were keener on wildlife and the environment than Wirral respondents who were more inclined to appreciate the facilities and the way in which sites were managed. Visitors to the coastal areas around Merseyside tended to be over 55 (37% of all respondents); respondents on the site at Wirral tended to be younger than those in Sefton, reflecting the increased use of the Wirral shore by families (20% of Wirral respondents were under 35 compared with 20% of Sefton respondents). 59% of the Sefton coast visitors lived in Sefton and 55% of Wirral coast visitors live on the Wirral (Quality of Coastal Towns Interreg 11c Project, 2000). This indicates the importance of coastal sites for local people and should be borne in mind when designing visitor facilities close to built up areas.

Detailed information and relevant reports pertaining to visitors to the Mersey Coast and their use of different sites is found at:

3) Key attractions within the catchment area

The Tourism Strategy for Merseyside has been developed alongside the new ‘Tourism Vision for England’s Northwest’ (North West Development Agency). The strategy focuses on seven core visitor experiences: culture and heritage; essential Liverpool; Conferences; Sport; Beatles; Classic resorts and major events. This is the way that the area is promoted and for each ‘experience’ there is a ‘must see/must have’ development which is seen as crucial in stimulating tourism market segments. Six other niche market areas are highlighted as areas for potential growth and development up to 2015: genealogy; bird watching; cruises; film and tv; horticulture and education.

In terms of promoting the area and its different attractions, a new brochure has been sent to 3,000 primary and secondary schools across Merseyside to encourage pupils, children and teachers to visit the eight museums and galleries operated by National Museums Liverpool. The brochure is the latest initiative to support Liverpool’s Year of Learning, which is the first of eight themed culture years to build up to being European Capital of Culture in 2008. It is called ‘Learning Live’ and contains information and colourful images about Liverpool Museum, The Walker, Museum of Liverpool Life, Merseyside Maritime Museum, HM Customs & Excise National Museum, Conservation Centre, Sudley House and Lady Lever Art Gallery. A spokesperson for the National Museums, Liverpool stated: “We want more children and young people across Merseyside to come into our museums and have a fabulous learning experience completely free of charge. There are also training courses and sessions for teachers.” The brochure promotes forthcoming events and exhibitions and explains their relevance to the National Curriculum. Port Sunlight Heritage Centre is a popular attraction and although it is not aimed at users of outdoor space, some lessons can be learned from the way that a visitor centre has been rebuilt there opposite an art gallery and from the ways in which they seek to complement each other in serving the same catchment area.

Port Sunlight Heritage Centre

A Heritage Centre was opened by Unilever in the 1980s. Port Sunlight was originally funded for development by William Lever who bought a 260 acres site and divided it into two. One half was for a factory for liquid soap and the other half was for a village for factory workers. Arguably this was one of the finest examples of a model village surviving today since it is almost intact and is found within an extraordinary landscape. There are 950 houses, theatre, public houses etc. The whole of the residential part is a conservation area. The village sits, however, in the middle of the Merseyside conurbation. The factory and village was owned by the Lever Bros and subsidiary company. Unilever eventually decided that it no longer wanted to run the village any more so it established an independent charity. They gave everything that had not been sold to a village trust. Port Sunlight Village Trust was established 6 years ago but a Heritage Centre was previously established in 1980. This is now perceived by a project worker as being ‘well out of date’ plus ‘it was very industry-focused’. Now there is more interest in the architectural significance of Port Sunlight. There is a large range of architecture between the houses. Many have very large chimneys which makes them distinctive in character.

The mission of the Village Trust is to preserve and conserve the buildings of Port Sunlight for the benefit of nature, and to promote the ideas underlying the foundation of Port Sunlight and relate it to the modern world. The existing Heritage Centre is almost obsolete. Also there is an art gallery in the middle of the village which houses the art collection of William Lever. This is a National Museum-run gallery and therefore is free to visitors. The Village Trust owns the building opposite the art gallery where a new exhibition will be created. Last year the old heritage centre received 20,000 visitors whereas the art gallery was far more successful in attracting 110,000 visitors (the fact that it is free may have contributed to this discrepancy). The Village Trust has to make a charge and now that it is being developed opposite the gallery they need to ensure that their own centre is of sufficient quality to be worthy of a charge.

The new centre is being developed with money from HLF Objective 1 – the museum will be titled ‘sunlight vision’ – it is aspiring to be a museum at present and will become registered as such. The idea is to demonstrate the vision of Port Sunlight through different characters, for example, William Lever and his utopian vision, philanthropy and aim of improving conditions for workers; the vision through the eyes of one of the gardeners; visions of local residents and one of the early starters (a fifteen year old working in the factory); and the school teacher. There are static characters in zones plus there is an interactive theatre where actors are on film playing the roles of the aforementioned characters. A gallery area is also being developed where many artefacts will be presented.
The project has been developed over the past four years. The North West Tourist Board undertook a feasibility study (now defunct); Vision Works Conservation undertook a study as well. The Village Trust submitted bids to HLF and LRDF (which required a business plan). There has been a lot of investigation and project planning in the earlier stages of development and in relation to applying for grants. The new Heritage Centre should be functioning in early August 2006.
The Mersey Partnership is reportedly quite excited by this new developing tourist attraction which enhances one of Merseyside’s jewels. Port Sunlight receives 2-300,000 walk-through visitors per year and the Heritage Centre will aim to hook these in encouraging them to spend in Port Sunlight.

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