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Climate change: Rising sea levels threaten to sink Welsh village

The Advertiser 2019-06-12 08:18:00

This small but vibrant Welsh town is on the brink of being wiped off the map.

Fairbourne, a seaside town of fewer than 1000 people on the northwest coast of Wales, is under threat from rising sea levels that may send it underwater within a generation.

But before that happens, drastic plans are being considered that would make the town vanish and remove “any trace anyone’s lived there”. But not everyone is happy.

According to a report by CNN, Fairbourne, on the Irish Sea, is facing a losing battle against rising water levels. They’ve risen by 5mm a year since the 1990s, but that’s expected to accelerate. Experts predict the sea level will have risen 0.5m in about 35 years, at the latest.

By that stage, the local council will stop defending Fairbourne.


Gwynedd Council has already spent more than $11 million on a flood risk management scheme with the Welsh Government’s natural resources body. But by 2054, Fairbourne would need a seawall towering up to 6m for protection — at a cost of up to $220 million — and that may not even do much, Huw Williams, a civil engineer at Gwynedd Council, told CNN.

“If that wall were to be overtopped or breached, the consequences would be dire,” Mr Williams said.

“The reality of sea level rise is going to be of such a magnitude that you cannot build your way out of it.”

The rising of the base sea level, which is attributed to climate change, wasn’t even the only threat, he said.

“As sea levels rise there’s more energy, bigger waves, more frequent storms,” he said. “More and more water is going to overtop the embankment.”

That’s why the council is seriously considering the possibility of relocating residents before that happens and allowing the sea to claim Fairbourne. Or, as local media puts it, “decommission” the town.


Lisa Goodier, a senior project manager at the council’s flood and coastal erosion risk management team, said everything in the town would need to be removed — the people, buildings and infrastructure.

“We’d need to remove any trace that anyone’s lived there in order for the sea to be able to come in there and not be polluted by anything that’s man-made,” she said.

The year 2045 was a possible deadline for those relocations, Ms Goodier told CNN.

The council can’t force anyone to leave their homes — only police could evacuate residents if there was a risk to their lives.

And there’s no clear plan on where people would go, with Fairbourne surrounded by mountains, nor who would pay the enormous relocation costs and compensate residents for their lost properties.

But if Fairbourne was abandoned, it would make the town’s residents the first climate change refugees in the UK.

A masterplan outlining the council’s future strategy is waiting for internal approval, according to CNN.

But not all residents are convinced they’ll need to leave.

Lauren Baynes, 22, who runs the town’s butchery shop with her partner, told Wales Online talk of abandoning the town was “frustrating”.

“We have two young children. It would be nice to hand the business down to them one day and for the whole family to stay here,” she said.

“I’ve lived in the area my whole life, and I’ve never known Fairbourne to flood badly.

“I’ve never been spoken to about any of this. Nobody has said anything about what’s going to happen or when or how. There’s been no word on compensation or where we would all move to.”

Longtime resident Stuart Eves, who chairs Fairbourne’s community council, told Wales Online residents were “seriously angry” about how the situation had been handled.

“They’ve basically said ‘we’re going to come in and take this all down’. How can they say that based on supposition?” he said.

“Of course we realise that sea levels are rising, but at what rate? We know there’s going to be a problem, but what we don’t know is when.”

Residents have also complained talk of Fairbourne being “decommissioned” is driving down house prices and negatively affecting tourism.

“If this village does flood then of course we will need help and support,” resident Hugh Harrison told Wales Online.

“But at the moment it’s not happening and doesn’t look like happening. Most people I speak to all say the same thing — ‘if I want to live here then it’s up to me’.”

Originally published as Town that wants to disappear from the map