East Suffolk Council - Suffolk Coastal Local Plan (Adopted September 2020)

6 Tourism

6.1 The tourism sector is a substantial and important part of the area's overall economy, which brings benefit to the quality of life and the wellbeing of communities. The area succeeds in attracting visitors for a variety of reasons, but the character and appeal of its landscapes, villages and market towns is of fundamental importance.

6.2 Tourism supports businesses, facilities, town centres and community life across the plan area. Destinations throughout the plan area are popular for holidays, overnight stays and with residents of the district, nearby areas and further afield. Sustainable growth in tourism can promote a better understanding and appreciation of the natural, built and historic environment, which in turn will help to maintain these finite resources for future generations.

6.3 Visitors to the former Suffolk Coastal area are attracted by the character, culture, history, festivals, music, art, film, food and drink, clean beaches and spectacular coastline, river valleys, and the outstanding countryside and wildlife found across the plan area. Capitalising on these strengths will enable the area to continue to attract year round tourism trade.

6.4 Tourism is an important part of the economy of the former Suffolk Coastal area, contributing 12% to total employment across the District in 2017. The Suffolk Coastal Economic Impact of Tourism Report 2017 identifies that over 6.3 million tourist trips were recorded generating a total of £325 million total tourism value across the plan area. The Ipswich Economic Area Sector Needs Assessment (2017) identifies that growth is expected to be seen within the 'Hospitality and Leisure' sector of the economy. Tourism is an important part of this sector reflecting both the cultural and natural environment across the plan area.

6.5 The former Suffolk Coastal area offers a diverse range of tourism experiences to satisfy all tastes. The strength of the tourism offering in the peak summer months have created a seasonal tourism environment and it is important to exploit opportunities which support the tourism offer all year round. Weaknesses include low pay and productivity in the sector along with gaps and inconsistencies in the overall offer made to visitors alongside strong competition from other local, national and international locations.

6.6 The East Suffolk Business Plan, the East Suffolk Tourism Strategy and the East Suffolk Economic Growth Plan 2018 strive to build on the strength of the tourism economy and set out aims for increasing visitor numbers outside of the main tourist season including delivering and supporting cultural and sporting events. Supporting the industry is of great importance but it must not be at the expense of the sensitive natural and historic assets and attractions that draw people in to the area.

6.7 Popular tourism destinations include locations within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Heritage Coast, forests, estuaries, seaside towns and historic villages. This could result in some places and communities experiencing potential significant adverse impacts such as loss of natural habitats or overcrowding. The Local Plan seeks to reduce these impacts whilst increasing the volume and value of tourism trade and extending the tourist season to support compelling destinations and visitor experiences.

6.8 The Local Plan recognises the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB as vitally important to the tourism industry . The 2018 AONB Management Plan identifies the natural beauty, tranquillity and historic assets within the AONB as supporting social wellbeing and the local economy.

6.9 The National Planning Policy Framework encourages development of tourism initiatives in urban and rural locations, provided the character of the countryside is respected, and pollution and other adverse effects on the local and natural environments are minimised. The NPPF encourages the retention and development of accessible local services and facilities. In the plan area tourism uses can support local facilities but it is important to maintain a balance between facilities meeting the needs of visitors and communities. Sustainable tourism, as advocated in the AONB Management Plan, is strongly supported in the implementation of tourism development throughout the plan area, but with particular regard to the AONB and Heritage Coast. Along the Heritage Coast it is important that sustainable tourism is integrated with local economic and community benefits, conservation and enhancement of its unique environment and valuable natural resources.

6.10 The Suffolk Coast Tourism Strategy 2013-2023 further advocates support for sustainable tourism, with a strong reputation for its positive environmental values which attract visitors throughout the year, and encourage effective partnership working to balance the environmental, heritage, economic, and community priorities. The Suffolk Coast Destination Management Organisation (DMO) is the organisation established to manage the improved delivery, co-ordination, facilitation, and monitoring of the key elements of the tourism strategy across the Suffolk Coast, through the development and marketing of the Suffolk Coast area as a visitor destination.

Policy SCLP6.1: Tourism

The Council will seek to manage tourism across the plan area in a way that protects the features that make the area attractive to visitors, and supports local facilities where the local road network has the capacity to accommodate the traffic generated from proposals.

Proposals which improve the visitor experience and support opportunities for year round tourism will be supported where increased tourism uses can be accommodated.

Proposals for tourist related development will be determined by the area's capacity for further growth in the following locations:     

  1. The resorts of Felixstowe and Aldeburgh;     
  2. Market towns of Woodbridge, Framlingham, Saxmundham and Leiston;     
  3. The Heritage Coast environment which is of national significance;     
  4. The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and     
  5. Rural areas across the rest of the District.

Applicants will be expected to undertake biodiversity and habitat assessments to ensure that any development of tourism related facilities does not conflict with environmental policies. Where appropriate the Council will support the introduction of local management solutions to address any issues caused by tourism.

Tourism Destinations

6.11 As well as the natural environment, seaside towns and villages in the former Suffolk Coastal area, there are a number of tourist destinations which are popular places for visitors and local residents, including beaches, family attractions, special landscapes, and cultural and heritage assets. The former Suffolk Coastal area is characterised by diverse tourism destinations across the district which integrate experiences around culture, food and drink, artisan and creative products, aviation, military, historical interpretation and education, active recreation and wellbeing.

6.12 Tourism destinations support businesses and jobs in other sectors of the local economy and the Local Plan recognises and supports tourism relationships and opportunities with neighbouring local authorities including Ipswich and Tendring, for example boat trips, pedestrian and cycle ferries and links between museums, businesses and communities.

6.13 Within established tourism destinations, there are likely to be opportunities for further development or intensification of use over the plan period and it is important that these are realised in a sympathetic way which works for the site as a whole and surrounding area. In this regard, the addition of new buildings, car parking areas, bus routes, cycle facilities, rail infrastructure and pedestrian links will be supported when related to the continued operation of the destination. In sensitive locations across the plan area, proposals will need to be subject to consideration under the Habitats Regulations to ensure that development does not cause any significant adverse impacts.

6.14 Across the plan area there is a comprehensive range of tourism activities provided by organisations, stakeholders and businesses. Some have the benefit of tourist road signage which are coordinated by Suffolk County Council as local Highways Authority, however many more do not benefit from such dedicated signage. Many of these take place within the former Suffolk Coastal area but the area also benefits from attractions outside of the plan area such as Latitude Festival and the County Town of Ipswich, which result in additional visitors to the area and demand on accommodation in the plan area.

6.15 Facilities which broaden the tourist opportunities across the plan area and extend the tourist season will be welcomed where they accord with other policies in the Local Plan. The Suffolk Coast Tourism Strategy 2013-2023 emphasises the need to maximise the appeal, quality and popularity of the countryside, and the market and coastal towns to encourage more off and shoulder season visits for a range of activities.

Policy SCLP6.2: Tourism Destinations

The Council will support proposals for tourism development that contribute to the broad appeal, accessibility and year round nature of destinations across the plan area.

Tourism proposals should be of the highest standard of design and seek to protect and enhance the special character and interest of the destinations and the distinctiveness of the area with particular regard to sensitive landscapes and heritage assets.

Where necessary, applications for new destinations or the redevelopment or extension/intensification of destinations will need to be subject to screening under the Habitats Regulations. Any destinations which would result in significant adverse effects on European sites which could not be appropriately mitigated will not be permitted. A Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment will also be required where the destination is in an area of landscape sensitivity in accordance with the Landscape policies.

Tourism in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Heritage Coast

6.16 The scenic beauty and special landscape qualities that justify the 155 square miles of designated Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) make a significant contribution to the attractiveness of the area to visitors. In this regard it is vitally important that the sensitive landscapes of the AONB are conserved for the future success and public enjoyment of the area, as supported by national planning policy.

6.17 The importance of conserving the Heritage Coast is also outlined in national planning policy. The Council recognises the wider economic benefits that can be brought about through the conservation of the historic environment, bringing significant benefit to local economies and communities.

6.18 National planning policy is clear that major development in designated areas (such as the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB and Heritage Coast) should be restricted except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated that proposals are in the public interest.

6.19 It is acknowledged in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Management Plan of 2018 that development of sustainable tourism and Heritage Coast conservation is vitally important to the success of the tourism industry across the AONB. The value of the tourism economy to the AONB was nearly £200m in 2016 and supported over 4,000 jobs. The AONB Management Plan encourages new tourism development in the AONB, provided it is inclusive, sustainable and supports the conservation of the area.

6.20 Tourism can take many forms but within the AONB, the Local Plan will only support developments and proposals which are of a higher standard of design, that reduce the impacts on the environment, by where appropriate, reusing existing buildings and which satisfy the primary purpose of designation, that is to conserve and enhance the special qualities of the AONB. Opportunities for innovative contemporary design are welcomed in appropriate locations within the AONB. The success of the tourism industry and the conservation of the AONB are not mutually exclusive. In this regard a supportive tourism strategy must acknowledge the importance of the scenic beauty and special landscape qualities of the AONB and the benefits associated with collaboration and communication between tourism businesses, visitors, local communities, and the AONB Partnership.

6.21 The Suffolk Coast Tourism Strategy 2013 emphasises the need for continued uptake of the Community and Conservation Fund, operated by the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Partnership, in aiding the conservation of the sensitive landscapes of the AONB through monetary contributions. In this regard, the Local Plan encourages businesses that benefit from the special character of the AONB for attracting visitors, to contribute financially to the Community and Conservation Fund.

6.22 Sustainable tourism is strongly encouraged throughout the former Suffolk Coastal area, and to a greater extent within the AONB and Heritage Coast. Sustainable tourism is defined as tourism development that actively enables the wider environmental objectives of the AONB Partnership. These objectives, as stated in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Management Plan, are as follows:

  • Special wildlife, landscape, seascape and heritage qualities are conserved and meet the needs of people who live, work and visit the AONB;
  • Local communities are fully engaged in the care of the area;
  • A high-quality landscape and infrastructure exist to support sustainable access of the AONB as a whole.

6.23 Extending opportunities for tourist activities that draw on and are consistent with, the conservation of their heritage features is encouraged.

Policy SCLP6.3: Tourism Development within the AONB and Heritage Coast

Applicants are encouraged to engage with local communities and the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Management Unit in evolving development proposals, with the aim of delivering development that takes an active role in the management of the local area.

Tourism development in the AONB, or its setting and Heritage Coast will be supported where it:     

  1. Enhances the long term sustainability of the area;
  2. Is of a scale and extent that does not have a significant adverse impact on the primary purpose of the AONB designation;
  3. Is well related to existing settlements and / or supporting facilities;
  4. Avoids, prevents or mitigates for adverse impacts on the natural environment;
  5. Supports the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and special qualities of the AONB and its setting;
  6. Is of the highest design standards and where appropriate reuses existing buildings;
  7. Promotes innovative, contemporary design in appropriate locations;
  8. Minimises light pollution from artificial light sources and ensures the retention of dark skies;
  9. Avoids locations sensitive to the exposed nature of the AONB and Heritage Coast; and
  10. Demonstrates sustainable aspects of the development during construction and throughout the life of the development. Renewable energy provision is strongly encouraged.

Tourism Outside the AONB

6.24 Outside of the AONB, the Council is welcoming of tourist enterprises and activities which can complement the tourism industry established in the 'hotspots' across the plan area. The areas outside of the AONB can play a key role in supporting and facilitating the increase of destinations and accommodation across the plan area.

6.25 The East Suffolk Business Plan and the East Suffolk Tourism Strategy both support the focus of tourism across East Suffolk and to establish strong links with neighbouring areas. Encouraging increased tourism opportunities in the less sensitive parts of the plan area will ensure that the overall tourism capacity is increased and tourism spend increases across the plan area and throughout the year.

6.26 Tourism development outside of the AONB should be directed to locations which are well related to the existing settlements and will need to demonstrate good connectivity with existing amenities, services and facilities, and promote walking and cycling opportunities where appropriate.

Policy SCLP6.4: Tourism Development outside of the AONB

Tourism development outside of the AONB will be supported where it:     

  1. Enhances the long term sustainability of the area;     
  2. Is well related to existing settlements;     
  3. Avoids, prevents or mitigates adverse impacts on the natural environment and on local landscape character;     
  4. Is of a scale that reflects the surrounding area;     
  5. Is of the highest design standards;     
  6. Minimises light pollution from artificial light sources and ensures the retention of dark skies; and     
  7. Demonstrates sustainable aspects of the development during construction and throughout the life of the development. Renewable energy provision is strongly encouraged.

New Tourist Accommodation

6.27 Across the former Suffolk Coastal area, tourist accommodation is provided in a variety of forms from large hotels, to small scale bed and breakfast establishments, to caravan and camping parks.

6.28 The Local Plan supports tourism accommodation initiatives that enhance and broaden the choice of accommodation and visitor destination facilities, which promote year round tourism and longer stays. The town centres, seafront resorts and market towns are priority locations for new hotel development followed by other accessible locations within settlement boundaries.

6.29 There is a broad range of self catering tourist accommodation available including camp sites, chalets, log cabins, caravan sites and glamping sites for all year round and seasonal uses. These sites provide a range of permanent and temporary buildings as well as differing in size and location and collectively create a rich and diverse choice of accommodation. It is important that the design of new accommodation ensures that such developments do not conflict with the character of the landscape.

6.30 Providing a diverse range of tourist accommodation across the plan area is desirable and the Council is generally supportive of opportunities that come forward subject to compliance with other policies in the Local Plan. Tourists visiting the area for short or longer periods of time have a positive impact on the viability of local shops and services and support the vitality of local and rural economies. The Local Plan recognises the importance of maintaining vibrant and active local communities particularly during off peak tourism months, as emphasised in the Local Plan consultation responses.

6.31 National Planning Policy supports tourism opportunities in the rural areas which respect the character of the area. The rural parts of the plan area provide a valuable economic and social contribution through increased spend in the local area and the provision of jobs and associated employment as demonstrated in the Suffolk Coastal Economic Impact of Tourism Report 2017. In order to promote the reuse/redevelopment of existing buildings, the Council will be supportive of proposals which bring these back into use.

6.32 In the interests of sustainable travel, proposals for new tourist accommodation will need to demonstrate good connectivity with tourist destinations, local amenities and promote walking and cycling opportunities.

6.33 The Local Plan seeks to provide a diverse range of accommodation to cater for the tourist demand. Tourist accommodation particularly that which is in permanent buildings can sometimes come under pressure to be occupied for full time residential use. New tourism accommodation will be restricted by planning conditions and/or legal agreements to ensure that these uses can provide all year-round occupation for tourists and are not occupied by a person or persons as their main residence. Restricting occupation of new self-catering tourist accommodation units to a continuous period of 56 days by one person or persons within one calendar year retains these units for the benefit of the tourism economy by providing a range of available accommodation for those wishing to visit the district. The owners/operators of the accommodation will be required to maintain an up-to-date Register of all lettings, which shall include the names and addresses of all those persons occupying the units during each individual letting. The Register will be required to be made available at all reasonable times to the Local Planning Authority.

Policy SCLP6.5: New Tourist Accommodation

Proposals for new tourist accommodation will be acceptable where:

  1. The demand or need for tourist accommodation is clearly demonstrated;
  2. They are of a high standard of design;
  3. They are of a scale appropriate to the nature of the site and its setting;
  4. They do not have a material adverse impact on the AONB or its setting, Heritage Coast or estuaries;
  5. Covered cycle storage, proportionate to the size of the site is provided on site;
  6. The road network is able to accommodate the volume of traffic generated without having a significant adverse impact on the free flow of traffic and highway safety;
  7. Ancillary facilities to support the tourist uses are provided on the site where required; and
  8. Flood adaptation and mitigation measures are included where required.

Tourist accommodation comprising permanent buildings will only be permitted:

  • Within the Settlement Boundaries;
  • Through the conversion of buildings of permanent structure where they lie outside the Settlement Boundary;
  • On medium and large scale sites where commercial, recreational or entertainment facilities are provided on site; or
  • Where such development forms part of a comprehensive masterplan which supports wider landscape and ecological gain.

New tourist accommodation will be restricted by means of planning conditions or obligations in accordance with national policy for planning conditions and obligations which permit holiday use only, restricted to a continuous period of 56 days by one person or persons within one calendar year, plus require a register of all lettings, to be made available at all times.

Protection of Existing Tourist Accommodation

6.34 The existing stock of hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast businesses and self catering accommodation provide an important role in support of the plan area's economy. Council monitoring in 2018 shows that the former Suffolk Coastal area has over 4000 rooms providing over 7500 bedspaces for tourist accommodation.

6.35 However, this diverse range of accommodation can sometimes come under pressure for conversion into residential properties, particularly in countryside settlements where new residential development is more strictly controlled. In recent times the rise of more flexible tourist accommodation provided through websites such as Airbnb has seen a more diverse range of accommodation being available which supplements the more established provision.

6.36 The Local Plan recognises the importance of maintaining vibrant and active local communities particularly during off peak tourism months, as emphasised in the Local Plan consultation responses. A balance must be made between the need to provide permanent housing for local people and provide tourist accommodation to support the local economy. As such, regard will be given, where the lack of demand for tourist accommodation can be demonstrated, to the vitality of local communities throughout the year.

6.37 The Local Plan therefore needs to set out an approach to protect existing tourist accommodation from conversion to residential use where tourist use may continue to be viable. The policy resists the change of use apart from exceptional cases where an identified lack of demand for tourist accommodation is clearly and satisfactorily demonstrated. As a minimum, planning applications for a change of use will need to provide marketing evidence demonstrating the accommodation has been marketed for a sustained period in accordance with the requirements set out in the Commercial Property Marketing Guidance seen in Appendix E.

Policy SCLP6.6: Existing Tourist Accommodation

Existing tourist accommodation will be protected. Change of use will only be considered in exceptional circumstances where it can be fully and satisfactorily demonstrated that there is no current or future demand for the tourist accommodation.

Marketing evidence must be provided which demonstrates the premises has been marketed for a sustained period of a minimum of 12 months in accordance with the requirements set out in the Commercial Property Marketing information as seen in Appendix E.