Like many Fairborns, Stuart Ives decided to settle in this North Wales seaside town for the rest of his days 26 years ago. She liked the tranquility of a small town of 700, nestled between the mountains and the Irish Sea.
“I wanted a place where my kids could grow up like I did, where they could run freely,” said Ives, 72, who has opened a trailer park that her son now runs. “You have the sea, the mountain. It is a wonderful place to live.”
All of that suddenly changed in 2014, when authorities said Fairborn was the first coastal community in the UK to be at serious risk of severe flooding as a result of climate change.
The government predicted that the water level would rise faster and that there would be more frequent and severe storms due to global warming, and that it could only defend this community from bad weather for 40 years. Authorities have said that by 2054, it will no longer be safe or sustainable to live in Fairborn.
That is why they are working with residents on a “scheduled resettlement”. In other words, he took them somewhere else until there was nothing left of them.
Overnight, house prices fell and residents began to be described as the UK’s first ‘climate refugees’. Not many believed it when they heard that the city would be “dismantled”. Seven years later, most of your questions remain unanswered.
They condemned the city and now have to try to resettle the people. “There are 450 homes,” said Ives, the town’s mayor. “If they want us to leave by 2054, they must have a place to house us.”
Nobody wants to leave. While there are many retirees, there are also young families who are raising the next generation. The locals are proud of their tight-knit community. And although “downtown” consists only of a grocery store, a fast-food outlet, and a number of restaurants, residents say the pebbly beach and a small steam train attract many people during the summer.
Natural Resources Wales, the government-approved organization responsible for Fairborn’s maritime defense, said the town is particularly vulnerable because it is easily flooded. It was built in the mid-19th century on a low-salinity swamp. When the tide rises, it is below sea level. When there are storms, the water level is 1.5 meters (5 feet) higher than city level.
Scientists say the water level has risen by about 10 centimeters (4 inches) in the past century. By 2100, it will have grown between 70 centimeters and one meter, depending on greenhouse gas emissions and measures that governments can take.
On the other hand, Fairborn is located at the entrance to the estuary, which carries additional risks of flooding. The authorities have invested millions of pounds in reinforcing a sea wall and about three kilometers (about two miles) of barriers.
There are many villages along the Welsh coast and the decision as to which to protect is not based on financial considerations. Authorities say, in Fairborn’s case, the cost of the defenses will be “higher than the value of what they are protecting”.
The effects of climate change that you are talking about at the United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow are already a reality here.
Catherine Weiger of Gwinned Council, the regional body that oversees Fairborn, noted that this might be the first coastal town declared uninhabitable, but it wouldn’t be the only one.
He said there are no policies in place to help the local population.
We need more responses from the Welsh and British governments. This is my message for the United Nations summit, Wager said. “We need guidance, not only on mitigating the effects of climate change, but also on how to adapt to what is already happening.”
Half a million properties are at risk of coastal flooding in the UK. And by the end of 2080 it will be 1.5 million, according to the Climate Change Committee, an independent advisory body.
“Whatever happens at the summit, the water level will continue to rise and we have to be prepared,” said Richard Dawson, professor of engineering at Newcastle University and a member of the committee. “We have to be realistic. We cannot protect the entire coast. The challenge for the government is that the problem is not being addressed with the required urgency or transparency.”
In Fairborn, the friction between residents and the authorities reflects the complexity of everything. Residents feel the injustice they are being subjected to and believe that it is not entirely clear how quickly sea levels will rise to endanger their homes. When and how will the evacuation take place? Will they be compensated? If so, how many will they get?
There is no answer to all of these questions at the moment. The town’s priestess, Ruth Hansford, said many residents were suffering from “emotional exhaustion” from years of uncertainty and negativity. Others decide to go on with their lives, like everything else.
Becky Ofland and her husband recently rented the Glan and Mor Hotel. They are convinced that the city has a lot of life ahead of it.
“It’s like a big family. It’s not a town. We’re going to fight to keep it in place,” said the 36-year-old Ofland.
Down the street, Alan Jones, the owner of Fairborn Sheeppey, 64, says he doesn’t plan to leave either.
“Until the water arrives, until it becomes physically impossible to work, we will move forward,” he said.
Ives said he and his son believed “whatever will happen will happen.” But he will regret the inevitable breakup of the people he loves so much.
“You can’t move this town to another place and expect it to continue to operate in the same way,” he said. “What is happening here is a humanitarian catastrophe, albeit on a small scale.”
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