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Analysis of the ICZM process in The Netherlands

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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).


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  • 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, ISSN 1614-5968 download

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