Lessons learned from ICZM in Belgium, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom

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The European Parliament and Council released in 2002 the recommendation ‘2002/413/EC’ to develop and implement Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Europe. All EU member states were requested to develop national ICZM strategies until 2006. The response of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (‘Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit’; BMU) has been to publish an ICZM strategy in March 2006. But the ICZM process in Germany still contains significant gaps. In particular, it is not clarified adequately how to implement formally ICZM in the German legal system.


The objective of this study was to analyse three other European ICZM processes (Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) to derive lessons learned for ICZM in Germany in order to reduce or eliminate the gaps mentioned above.

Research questions

What are the lessons to be learned concerning formal implementation from the ICZM strategies of three other EU member states, namely Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom? a) Where and how is ICZM formally implemented in the particular country? Are the principles of ICZM integrated in existing structures, initiatives, and networks? b) Which institution/person is responsible for ICZM? What are their tasks?

Research methods

First, lessons learned are defined on the basis of Secchi (1999), whereupon a “lesson learned is knowledge or understanding gained by experience. (…) A lesson must be significant in that it has a real or assumed impact on operations; valid in that is factually and technically correct; and applicable in that it identifies a specific design, process, or decision that reduces or eliminates the potential for failures and mishaps, or reinforces a positive result”. Second, these lessons learned were drawn according to the classification of Rose (1991). He has identified five ways of lesson drawing: “copying” (more or less intact adoption of a programme), “emulation” (adoption with adjustment for different circumstances), “hybridization” (combining elements of programmes from two different places), “synthesis” (combining familiar elements from programmes in effect in three or more places), or “inspiration” (programmes elsewhere used as an intellectual stimulus for developing a novel programme without an analogue elsewhere).

Lessons learned from the European context

Below, the current ICZM situation of Belgium, The Netherlands and the United is presented. Thereupon, the lessons learned for the German ICZM process are displayed according to the research questions mentioned above.

Figure 1: Localisation of European countries taken into account to derive lessons learned for the ICZM process in Germany

The case study of Belgium

In Belgium a consultation with coastal administrative actors showed “that there exists little preference for developing a new strategy for the coast, but rather for making use of existing policy plans and instruments” (FOD, 2006). On this account, the Federal Public Service for Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment (‘Federale Overheidsdienst Volksgezondheit, Veiligheid van de Voedselketen en Leefmilieu’; FOD) developed a report which does not provide a new ICZM strategy, but take existing coastal policies and future visions into consideration. The name of the report is ‘National Report on the implementation of Recommendation 2002/413/EC’. It consists of three main topics. First, a brief stocktaking of coastal management and administrations in Belgium, second, special developments of ICZM issues, namely a coordination point, sustainability indicators and sea-land interactions, and third, suggestions for future ICZM in Belgium. According to Rupprecht Consult and International Ocean Institute (2006) the report “intends to be a source of inspiration for the government to optimize its integrated policy for the coast and provide information for all actors involved who wish to acquire better insight into the efforts made so far on the coast and current lines of thinking for the future”. The most relevant documents of ICZM in Belgium can be divided into planning on land and planning on sea. At land, environmental planning is an important instrument in the elaboration of an integrated strategy. As far as the landward side is concerned, the coast is designated as an urban network in the ‘Flemish Environmental Structure Plan’ (‘Ruimtelijk Struktuurplan Vlaanderen’). In the ‘Provincial Environmental Structure Plan’ (‘Provinziaal Ruimtelijk Struktuurplan West-Vlaanderen’) this zone is included as a separate sub zone. At sea, a ‘Master Plan for the North Sea’ has been formulated in 2003, aiming at sustainable management for the North Sea. It is stated that the spatial planning for the North Sea would take place in two phases. In the fist phase, there should be systematic consultation with all actors concerned, while taking account of the electricity production, by delineating zones in which these activities are permitted and incorporating a sustainable approach in the approval procedure. In the second phase, protected marine areas should be delineated and the necessary management measures defined (FOD, 2006).

  • Lessons learned concerning formal implementation

In Belgium, no single integrated policy document for the coast exists. In recent years, policy documents for various sectors have been drawn up, which refer to the entire coastal zone or a sub zone of it. Many documents have been produced about (aspects of) ICZM, but a clear vision of coastal future development cannot always be found (FOD, 2006). For that reason, the issue of formal implementation in Belgium does not hold worthwhile lessons learned for the German ICZM process.

  • Lessons learned concerning responsibilities and tasks

Main achievements concerning responsibilities and tasks of the Belgium ICZM process are the establishment of an ICZM ‘Coordination Point’ and sustainability indicators for the coast, a so called ‘Coastal Barometer’. Below, these two concepts are presented in detail. The ICZM Coordination Point is established by the Provincial Government of West Flanders in 2001 in order to organise responsibilities and tasks of the Belgium ICZM process. The organisation “was thought out very carefully to ensure good cooperation between the various actors. Consequently, because bridges needed to be built between all governments and partners, many other administrations and partners on the coast were also included in the organisational structure of the Coordination Point” (FOD, 2006). The Coordination Point goes along with three main bodies: the Steering Committee, the Task Force, and the Consultative Group (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Schematic representation of Belgium’s ICZM Coordination Point and collaborating ICZM bodies involved (according to Provincie West-Vlaanderen, 2007) The Steering Committee is composed of the municipalities, the province of West Flanders, and relevant departments and institutions of the national government. Besides, all representatives from the cabinets of the national and Flemish government are involved. The composition of the group indicates its highly official character. Therewith the Steering Committee tends to influence the direction of coastal policy and constitutes a direct link with the cabinets involved. It deals with the political follow-up and decision-making. According to FOD (2006) its main tasks are:

  • Open discussion of cross-sectoral themes (e.g. projects, policy proposals, policy plans) with all administrations concerned, relevant consultation and exchange of information
  • Proposal of solutions to conflicts and preparation of strategic steering of sustainable coastal management. The proposals are always submitted to the competent ministers for approval
  • Organisation of a coastal forum

The Task Force is made up of representatives from the departments responsible for nature conservation, marine environment, coastal protection, spatial planning, tourism, the Institute for Nature Conservation, the Flanders Marine Institute, and the provincial government of West Flanders (Provincie West-Vlaanderen, 2007). Representatives from other departments can be invited to attend the working group if a subject discussed concerns them. The Task Force is responsible for two main activities. First, the preparation of Steering Committee activities and the follow-up of the assignments that it receives from the Steering Committee. Second, the practical and concrete follow-up of ICZM works and projects (FOD, 2006). The Consultative Group is composed of official representatives drawn from all disciplines and the four policy-making levels: federal, provincial, regional, and local. As the Provincie West-Vlaanderen (2007) states, “the Consultative Group acts as a sounding board for the proper functioning of the coordination centre”. It is responsible for monitoring projects in the field and for preparing case files and projects. One component of this group is a coastal forum. It should “facilitate the flow of information to general population and offer all involved stakeholders the possibility to push for new themes concerning sustainable coastal zone management” (FOD, 2006). Referring to the tasks of the Coordination Point, it is from particular importance that it “offers a platform for consultation concerning and integration of policy making, but it cannot act in the place of the competent administrations” (FOD, 2006). The intended result is a better fine-tuning of coastal policy between the different actors on the coast. Therefore the Provincie West-Vlaanderen (2007) defined main tasks of the Coordination Point.

  • Communication and sensitisation on ICZM: awareness raising through concrete actions as part of ICZM; own publications (brochures, leaflets, posters, articles, website) about coastal subjects; organise and participate public days, seminars, workshops and conferences.
  • Acting as a point of contact on ICZM nationally and internationally: running an information office and to provide in objective manner information to policy-makers, teachers, students, interested citizens, etc. - nationally and internationally; providing information from and to the international community; participating to relevant European and international ICZM projects and networks.
  • Support implementation of the EU recommendation concerning ICZM: helping with the implementation of the EU recommendation concerning ICZM; stimulating the establishment of a formal basis for ICZM.
  • Integration of planning and policy: acting as secretariat of working groups and consultative bodies; participating to relevant steering and working groups to work on new policy developments.

The ICZM Coordination Point developed a Coastal Barometer, which consists of indicators to measure the sustainable use of the coast. It should make it possible “to monitor coastal evolution, give advice on taking decisions for future coastal developments (policy support) and ensure good communication about the coast to a wide audience” (FOD, 2006). In a long-lasting and broad participatory process – including key experts, municipalities, hotel and catering industry, environmental associations, civil servants, and sport clubs – six priorities with 21 indicators were defined as the most important ones. They are listed below, of which some indicators are relevant for several priorities (FOD, 2006): 1. Preservation and strengthening of the socio-cultural capital: differences in salary; protection and stocktaking of real estate. 2. Realisation of administrative innovation: implementation of ICZM. 3. Quality improvement of the residential and social environment: surface area of protected area; ageing rate; residential comfort; utilisation of public transport in day tourism to the coast; surface area of dedicated coastal habitat; number of motor vehicles on the roads. 4. Support for tourism and recreation: share of public transport in day tourism to the coast; share of highly accessible accommodation units; amount of tourists that stay-over. 5. Improvement of the environment and nature: surface area of protected areas; surface area of dedicated coastal habitat; quality of beach water; residual waste; number of motor vehicles on the roads; number of observed pollution incidents (oil etc.)/flight hour; fish stocks that are not being over fished. 6. Reinforcement of the economic fabric: economic value of ports; salary pressure; ratio of company start-ups to bankruptcies; added value per employee; employment in tourism; change in employment in fisheries and agricultural sectors; fish stocks that are not being over fished; unemployment rate.

The indicators and background data for the whole Belgian coast can be consulted on the ICZM Coordination Point website ‘www.vliz.be/projects/indicatoren’. The display of the coastal barometer and the background information are restricted to the essential aspects. The screenshot below (see Figure 3) shows the first priority (first column) with its two indicators (second column). The third column is named “Kompas” and provides background material as well as results for each indicator. The fourth column presents the “Trend” in a five stage scale from ‘strong enhancement’ (sunny weather) to ‘strong decline’ (rainy weather).

Figure 3: Fraction of the coastal barometer website, showing indicator (second column), link to background material “Kompas” (third column) and link to future “trend” (fourth column) of the priority ‘Preservation and strengthening of the socio-cultural capital’ (first column) (adapted from VLIZ, 2003) Clicking on the compass in this example, the website-user gets redirected to technical explanations of the indicator ‘differences in salary’. The topic is described by answering four questions: Why this indicator? What does this indicator say? What are the results? What will happen in future (VLIZ, 2003)? Clicking on the indicator itself, the user gets forwarded to the actual state-of-the-art of salaries along the Belgian coast. Next to a describing text, the salaries of all coastal municipalities in Belgium are shown in an interactive graphic. According to requirements, the user can select specific municipalities of interest. The following figure (see Figure 4) shows the differences in salary of three Belgium municipalities.

Figure 4: Interactive graphic of the Coastal Barometer website, showing ‘differences in salary’ of three municipalities. The x-axis presents time (from 1994 to 2002). The y-axis shows the range of income, at which value one constitutes the average income (adapted from VLIZ, 2003) All data of the Coastal Barometer is accessible for the wide public by internet presence. Thereby, it is focussed on a simple and user-friendly presentation and description, which can easily be understood by everyone. Therewith the Coastal Barometer initiated a far-reaching discussion on future development of the Belgium coast (VLIZ, 2003).

The case study of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has decided not to write a separate ICZM strategy, by reasoning that they already implement the principles of ICZM demanded by the EU recommendation in their policy. Nevertheless, the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management (‘Ministerie van Verkeer en Waterstaat’, MinVenW) has written a ‘Report on Implementation in the Netherlands’ to show “the extent to which the Dutch coastal zone is being managed in an integrated and sustainable way at the time of writing” (MinVenW, 2005). Therein, four main principles of ICZM in the Netherlands are defined. The first principle ‘decentralisation’ means that the implementation of spatial policy “should be decentralised wherever possible and centralised only where necessary” (VROM, 2005). For the coastal zone as elsewhere, this means that a regional and local approach is to be taken to policy implementation and management, within the framework set by national government. The second principle says that sediment-based measures for flood protection should be implemented as far as possible and rather than artificial structures. On the one hand that happens by the use of regular sand nourishment with the result that beaches become broader. On the other hand that happens by sand nourishment of the underwater shore face, which is said to be the most effective way to ensure coastal flood protection in the long term (MinVenW, 2000). The second principle can be sum up with the slogan “soft wherever possible, hard only where necessary” (MinVenW, 2005). According to the Dutch strategy, a major precondition of successful ICZM is awareness of the various interests at stake in the coastal zone and a good public support base (third principle). Various stakeholder organisations around the Dutch coast play a major role in this respect. They also take part in the development of policies for coastal areas and the implementation of planning studies and projects. The same is true for private sector organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) that sometimes have their own overarching visions for the coast and the North Sea (MinVenW, 2005). The fourth principle can be summarized with ‘international consultation’. All the coastal states in the EU face the task of developing integrated coastal zone management. The Netherlands are exchanging experience with other coastal states through cooperation on international projects. The same thing is happening via the EU group of experts, routine consultations between the North Sea states, and the annual meeting of the North Sea Coastal Managers Group (MinVenW, 2005). According to Rupprecht Consult and International Ocean Institute (2006) legal instruments, in particular at national level, provide a solid foundation for coastal management. The coastal zone has been recognised as a key national structure. The fact that there is no specifically dedicated coastal management strategy does not seem to be negative per se. “The hierarchy of policy instruments, including decentralised decision-making on the regional and local level and horizontal exchange between the administrative bodies seems to be a sufficiently strong enough platform to actually conduct ICZM” (ibid.).

  • Lessons learned concerning formal implementation

The principles of ICZM are formally implemented in two Dutch documents: First, the ‘National Spatial Strategy’ (‘Nota Ruimte’) from 2005, which is an integrated policy document on spatial planning in the Netherlands. And second, the ‘Third Policy Document on Coastal Areas’ (‘Derde Kustnota’) from 2000, which presents the existence of “weak links ” in the coastal flood defences as well as the risk of increasing storm damages in seafront settlements and aims at more resilient water systems of coastal zones. According to these two policies, it becomes clear that ICZM in the Netherlands follows a priority approach. That means, flood safety and erosion management play a decisive role and have priority at the Dutch coast, whereas other issues of the coast and the sea such as economic development, nature conservation, recreation, and spatial planning play a secondary role. Thereby, flood safety is understand as to maintain flood protection structures and legislative safety standards, whereas erosion management constitutes to maintain the coastline and compensate coastal erosion (Erenstein, 2006). In practice, the Dutch coastal management is characterised by a so called ‘weak link approach’. All together, 16 weak links are defined along the Dutch coast. These must be strengthened now or in the near future to maintain the statutory safety level of inland areas. For each of the weak links, the relevant provincial authority developed an integrated planning study. Its issue was not only to strengthen the coastal flood defences, but also to improve the spatial quality of the areas. Thus, at the Dutch coast, flood safety measures have priority. Other coastal measures have to follow by integrating them in flood safety measures.

  • Lessons learned concerning responsibilities and tasks

According to the principle of decentralisation, responsibilities of ICZM issues are given as much as possible to the federal state and regional/local level. The underlying idea is that, if national government provides overall guidance but desists from more control, other tiers of government are able to take more responsibility and perform better. They have more scope to work with other authorities, civil society organisations and local residents and businesses to devise effective solutions, exploit opportunities, and adopt an approach tailored to local circumstances (MinVenW, 2002). The basic philosophy of decentralisation addresses the need for improved regionalisation and even localisation of policymaking and management. This approach is in recognition of the three broad zones of the Dutch coast, i.e. Wadden Sea (islands included), Holland, and the Delta area (MinVenW, 2000). The Dutch Third Policy Document on Coastal Areas defines more coastal regions, which are highly different and therefore need different development goals, policies and management approaches. Examples for Dutch variations at the coastal zone are North Sea, Wadden Sea, Schelde delta, Ems estuary, and Lake Ijssel (MinVenW, 2000). However, if it comes to coastal defence and water resources, the increasingly strong role of provinces and municipalities as well as the various networks involving different stakeholders indicate an appreciation of the need for even locally tailored solutions (Rupprecht Consult and International Ocean Institute, 2006).

The case study of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom (UK) is a unique case, as the arrangements for the management of coastal areas throughout the UK are complex (Rupprecht Consult and International Ocean Institute, 2006). Over the years, the different administrations within the UK (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have taken ICZM policy forward individually, with their own solutions to their own diverse coastlines (see Defra, 2006a; DOENI, 2006; Scottish Executive, 2005). Due to this “historically rooted piecemeal development” of a complex system of legislation and regulation relating ICZM, the UK face a current lack of a strategic overarching national approach to their coastal zone (Rupprecht Consult and International Ocean Institute, 2006). The EU recommendation drove them to a ‘Report from the United Kingdom’ (see Defra, 2006b), wherein their experiences of implementing the EU recommendation are given. The report is mainly written on basis of two documents that play an outstanding role and describe the actual situation of ICZM in the whole UK. First, ‘ICZM in the UK: A Stocktake’ (Atkins, 2004), and second, ‘Safeguarding our seas – a strategy for the conservation and sustainable development of our marine environment’ (Defra, 2002). Overall, the ICZM strategy of the UK compares its activities with the principles mentioned in the EU recommendation. It reasons that the principles “local specificity, involvement of all parties and long term planning have been taken forward most successfully in coastal planning and management” (Atkins, 2004). The stocktake findings indicate that local ICZM works best, where clear conflicts have to be resolved. They also suggest that “not every inch of the UK coast needs ICZM to be set up” (Atkins, 2004). Nevertheless, for future development of ICZM in the UK, three main steps are proposed. First, the development of secure funding arrangements to support ICZM, second, the design of stronger leadership at all levels (national, regional, local) and third, the engagement of more stakeholders at all levels in the ICZM process. Roberts (2007) states that the ICZM strategy is not a strategy, but a consultation document. And further she presents that it “didn’t really say anything!” (ibid.). The current trend goes in a direction not to develop the strategy further, but to implement the ICZM principles in the new ‘UK Marine Bill’, where they should be local specific, and guidelines like.

  • Lessons learned concerning formal implementation

The UK has a complex system of legislation and regulation in place, which relates to ICZM. The different sectors and levels are not nested within a coherent structure and have a limited endorsement of issues related to the land-sea interface (Rupprecht Consult and International Ocean Institute, 2006). Furthermore, the UK faces a current lack of a strategic overarching national approach to their coastal zone (ibid.). For these reasons, the issue of formal implementation in the UK does not hold worthwhile lessons for the German ICZM process.

  • Lessons learned concerning responsibilities and tasks

The striking ICZM issues of the UK are forms and organisation of participation. It seems that participation of stakeholders and discussions with all of them is the most striking focus of all strategies. Atkins (2004) stresses that stakeholder participation and public discourse can be viewed as the main outcome of the ICZM process in the UK. Hence, there are various lessons learned concerning responsibilities and tasks, especially for the local level. Since lessons learned refer to both, positive and negative experiences (see Chapter 2.2.3), the following lesson is also based on both experiences. Coastal forums play an important role for the development of ICZM and its participation in the UK. A coastal forum is a permanent working group concerned with marine and coastal issues. The establishment of national coastal forums has tradition in the UK. As Atkins (2004) mentioned there are done various experiences with coastal forums around the UK. The greatest potency of these groups is an opportunity for networking, keeping up-to-date, exchanging information and raising issues for discussion. A less successful aspect is their ability to influence government policy and facilitate action on the ground (ibid.). Part of the reason can be found in the voluntary nature of forums and in its informal links with the development of policy. Another problem that occurred is the phenomenon of “consultation fatigue” (ibid.), because of the large number of initiatives running in the UK. However, in the absence of any statutory basis for ICZM processes at the local level, the driving force behind many ICZM initiatives has been a desire to tackle issues of local concern (ibid.). These are often dealt with by coastal forums and partnerships, which makes ICZM relevant to local people but also has encouraged the development of practical solutions. A form of early participation of stakeholders takes place in England and Northern Ireland. There, the preliminary ICZM strategies are provided with questions after each chapter concerning the quality of the text and vision behind it. People are called upon critical feedback. That is a very early state of participation in the ICZM process. It is asked for participation before a draft plan is prepared. The examples below are taken from the ICZM strategy of Northern Ireland (DOENI, 2006).

Figure 4: Selection of questions posed in the ICZM strategy of Northern Ireland showing a form of early participation of stakeholders (adapted from DOENI, 2006) Conclusion Concerning formal implementation, the priority approach of the Netherlands is worth to mention for the German ICZM process. It stands for the priority of flood safety measures at the Dutch coast, at which other coastal interests have to follow by integrating them in flood safety measures. Therewith, ICZM becomes a practicable management tool that can be integrated in flood safety measures. Referring to responsibilities and tasks, the Coordination Point of Belgium, and the Dutch philosophy of decentralisation are good examples how responsibilities of ICZM are divided. Overall, the trend is giving as much responsibility as possible to the regions. The Belgium Coastal Barometer constitutes a simple set of indicators for sustainable development of the coast. Therewith, it can make a contribution to the German ICZM process where “simple” indicators are needed (BMU, 2006). The lessons learned from the United Kingdom refer to the issue of participation. Coastal Forums have a great potency for networking, keeping up-to-date, exchanging information and raising issues for discussion, but often suffering from the phenomenon of ‘consultation fatigue’. The principle of early participation holds potential for Germany since it seems to be an adequate tools to ensure that stakeholders are formally and early involved in ICZM processes.


See also

Internal Links

External Links

  • The present study was performed within the frame of a Diploma thesis at the Technical University Berlin which was published as ICZM-Odra report no. 44 download

The main author of this article is Tim Nandelstaedt
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Tim Nandelstaedt (2008): Lessons learned from ICZM in Belgium, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Available from http://www.coastalwiki.org/wiki/Lessons_learned_from_ICZM_in_Belgium,_The_Netherlands_and_the_United_Kingdom [accessed on 17-04-2021]