Fairbourne Learning Project – Welsh Government


Fairbourne forms a small community in Gwynedd of approximately 420 residential and business properties. It is located at the mouth of the Afon Mawddach and was built as a seaside retreat on newly defended and reclaimed land during the late 19th and early 20th Century. The concept of the resort and early construction was led by Victorian entrepreneurs following the arrival of the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway around 1864. Subsequent piecemeal development, principally as holiday home bungalows, was largely undertaken between the two World Wars.
It is currently defended from the sea on both its estuarine and coastal frontages. However, rising sea levels mean that much of the village of Fairbourne would be below normal high tide levels within the next 50 years. The Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) for the area reverts from the current “Hold the Line” policy, towards “Managed Realignment” over the second epoch (to 2055), whilst the policy for third SMP epoch (to 2105) is for “No Active Intervention”. There are also vulnerabilities from groundwater sources.
Whilst there is a clear commitment to sustain current standards of protection for the next 36 years, significant strategic change is called for and a broad partnership is established called “Fairbourne Moving Forward” led by Gwynedd Council to progress a suite of long-term-planning actions, including development of a masterplan for change.

Our work for Welsh Government is examining the implications and lessons learned around policy and forward-planning engagement with the coastal community at Fairbourne, Gwynedd, whose long-term sustainability is threatened from these multiple sources of flooding. We have been supported in this work by Icarus, a specialist engagement consultancy.


Our research examined the effectiveness of engagement processes to develop and adopt the Shoreline Management Plan and the impacts from the engagement actions on the community, the extent of their involvement and the issues surrounding intense media interest in this small community.
We have developed a suite of Learning Points addressing the themes of:-

  • Approaches to engagement
  • Impacts on the community
  • Project resources
  • Governance and accountability

We have taken these learning points forward to provide a critical friend role to all those participating in a progressive programme, supporting effective engagement and dialogue, identifying social impacts and exploring mechanisms for robust and adaptive governance arrangements.

The lessons learned from this active, participative research will help to inform best practice nationally, to provide more effective engagement approaches for other communities facing change and the need to respond and adapt to the impacts of climate change.


Through the publication of Bulletins, incorporating well-researched and evidence-based Learning Points, we are providing a resource for organisations and communities to address and plan for large-scale change associated with climate change adaptation.
Our Critical Friend role in supporting the Fairbourne Moving Forward Partnership has provided an impartial perspective to enable the development of an innovative masterplan for coastal change that is at the forefront of coastal adaptation planning.

Want to know more?

Email Phil Bennett-Lloyd or Rachel Brisley for more information on this project. You can also find out more about our work on Climate Change here.

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