Even before global warming makes an impact, Cornwall's coast is changing. By Mark MacKenzie

The chaos at Britain's airports after the recent terror alert has left many feeling that, in future, it might be easier to take holidays at home. Family holiday specialist Hoseasons, for example, is just one of a several domestic providers that have registered a huge rise in inquiries for UK breaks.

But in the coming decades, Britain's holiday market may be set to heat up in more ways than one. Computer models designed to forecast the long-term effects of global warming are predicting that temperatures on the Continent, and in southern Europe in particular, may rise by as much as 7C in the second half of this century. As a result, there may be a significant increase in the numbers of our Continental cousins choosing to spend summer breaks in the UK's more temperate climate.

"By the 2080s, mean temperatures in central and southern Europe are expected to rise by between 3C and 7C," says Peter Stott, a climate scientist at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, a branch of the Met Office. "Any rise in mean temperatures will also be accompanied by an increase in climate extremes, with potential increases in heatwaves, forest fires and low-level ozone. In Britain, however, the temperature is moderated, thanks to our relatively small land mass being surrounded by ocean, and predictions suggest a rise in mean temperatures between 2.5 and 5 per cent."

Given the potential difference in temperature between the Continent and the UK, some tourist industry commentators suggest there may be a big increase in human traffic to Britain, which might also lead to growth in other Continental holiday staples, with Britain's coastline possibly playing host to the sort of multi-storey blocks associated with the Costa del Sol.

But if Britain's first "Costa-style" development is anything to go by, this doesn't bode well. The Beach, at Carlyon Bay near St Austell in Cornwall, a 511-apartment resort, is already under construction. First granted planning permission in 1990, it is billed by its developer, Ampersand, as "the UK's first destination resort".

Yet from the time plans were announced and the press nicknamed it "Costa del Cornwall", the project has been mired in acrimony, thanks to locals who believe such developments are unsuited to Britain's coastal towns. The Beach will take up substantial portions of Carlyon Bay's three beaches and such has been the furore surrounding its potential impact on the environment, from sea defences to aesthetics, that in November the project will be the subject of a public inquiry.

"Cornwall's main attraction is its coastline," says Roy Bennett, the chairman of Carlyon Bay Watch, a community group established to fight the development. "If this goes ahead you won't be able to even see the cliffs from the sea."

Mr Bennett insists the argument is about more than simple nimbyism. "This proposal extends into the tidal zone and along 80 per cent of the shoreline at Carlyon Bay. Large development projects affect the quality of life of whole communities." He also fears developments such as The Beach will set a precedent. Residents living by other beaches in the area will, he says, be "watching the inquiry closely".

But the developers are confident the pros for the community far outweigh the cons. "During construction, The Beach will create 500 jobs," says Michelle Sammons of Ampersand, "with a further 400 when completed." She also points to research by the accountancy KPMG which suggests The Beach could generate up to £21m a year for the area. "Also, the beaches are man-made and we will be developing a brownfield site."