Standing with your feet in the sea at Emsworth in Hampshire, the coastal path is at knee level a metre away. Beyond that the elegant front gardens of the million-pound houses are well below eye level. It is a spring high tide in Chichester harbour at one of the few places on the south coast where there are no sea defences. It is a sunny day with a gentle offshore breeze.
An onshore wind would add another half a metre to this tide. With sea level rise the highest tides will soon be lapping at the doors of the mansions being built to replace the prewar bungalows. On the front lawn of a nearby 1920s house the owners want to build another five executive homes while the local authority, trying to keep houses affordable, suggests 24 ordinary dwellings.
Amid the rush to develop, the exposed location hardly gets a mention. Overtopping the harbour is regarded as “a maximum flood risk” so planning rules stipulate that ground floors must be half a metre above lawn level and with solid front fence. The dried seaweed wrapped around the fence posts in the less well-tended front gardens show that these planning rules may already be out of date. More surprisingly, 30-year mortgages are still available.