In the 19th century, the town’s vast sandy beach was a magnet for tourists. But a century on, the beach had been eroded, leaving the seafront vulnerable to damage by winter storms – but worse, leaving this faded tourist town with too few visitors to sustain jobs. Colwyn Bay was economically deprived with high unemployment.
Floods caused by a storm surge in December 2013 resulted in 400 residents being evacuated. The Welsh government prioritised funding for new flood protection. Innovatively, its cash was combined with European Regional Development Funding to create a £30M fund aimed at achieving twin outcomes: to protect the town from the sea and revive the local economy.
Fortifying the seafront with rock armour would have reduced the risk of flooding but would have irrevocably cut the town off from the sea, closing the door on seaside tourism for ever. Instead, the council decided to pursue a more imaginative solution backed by the local community. This involved the construction of a groyne and replenishment of the beach with more than 1Mt of imported sand.
The beach, which is held in place by the groyne, soaks up the energy of pounding winter waves, protecting 200 properties, part of the A55 and the railway from flooding.
Recreating the beach has also reinvigorated Colwyn Bay’s relationship with the sea. It is a Blue Flag bathing beach used all year round by visitors and locals. Land reclaimed as part of the protection work houses a community-operated watersports facility and a restaurant with a fantastic view, run by celebrity chef Bryn Williams.
What has been created is so much more than flood protection or a new beach. It is a new future for Colwyn Bay.