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This section provides an example of local coastal governance in the case study area of Zeebrugge, Belgium.


Zeebrugge Beach
 Zeebrugge Beach (photo by Velvet via Wikimedia Commons)


Governance of coastal zones and disaster risk 


Coastal protection and management

The Masterplan for Coastal Safety is the guiding policy for coastal protection in the Flanders region. -.The plan defines an optimal safety level and is differentiated along the coast (and, where possible, in time). In order to improve coastal safety, 'soft' and 'hard' measures for the weakest points of each coastal city are listed. Soft measures, such as sand nourishment on beaches and in dunes, are used to improve safety. Where these soft measures are not sufficient, ‘hard’ structure such as dikes, are constructed or further improved. The Coastal Division of the Agency for Maritime and Coastal Services (MDK) is the chief authority responsible for implementation. It issues high water level warnings, manages coastal defence structures, and undertakes urgent repair measures.

The Masterplan recommends measures based on technical studies, impact analyses and communication with municipalities' local stakeholders. Where a hard defence structure was needed to improve the safety against a 1000-year storm, the municipalities and the Coastal Division cooperated (both practically and financially) to design and construct architectural defence structures and/or to combine the construction with renovation of existing structures. It should be noted that the Masterplan is designed to protect the residential areas bordering the inner harbour of Zeebrugge. For this reason, the outer harbour and risks to economical activities taking place there are not taken into account in the DRR studies for the Masterplan for Coastal Safety

Alongside the works for the implementation of the Master Plan, the Strategical Port Infrastructure Project (SHIP) is set to be implemented. Through SHIP, the Flemish government will convert the old inner port into a "limited open tidal zone" and re-build the sea lock further inland. The aim is to improve maritime accessibility and create new terrains for the development of port activities. Relevant measures will be introduced into the Master Plan. The implementation time frame is from 2013 to 2020. 


Flood risk management

The principal legislation for water and flood risk management in the Flanders region is the 2003 Decree on Integrated Water Policy (DIWP), which was modified in 2010 for the implementation of the EU Floods Directive. It covers prevention, defence, and mitigation. The modified decree took into account the defence against inundations, as well as the control of flood risks. The participatory, multilevel process is described in the general overview of governance in Belgium.


Civil protection and disaster risk reduction

Responsibilities during a natural disaster are defined depending on the magnitude of the event. In case of a local or provincial disaster in the Zeebrugge area (as elsewhere in Flanders), the multidisciplinary coordination consists of two teams. The first is the Operational Command Post, which is responsible for the operational coordination. The team consists of the manager of the sectors involved in the crises. In parallel, the Coordination Committee has to manage the emergency situation. The committee consists of the mayor or governor, the representatives of various sectors and, if necessary, field experts. When management is scaled up to the provincial level, the governor sets up the Provincial Crisis Centre and takes over the coordinating role.


Engagement of non-state actors in coastal governance 


There is a large degree of communication and correlation between the port authority and the various stakeholders.  Official policy makes use of formal communication and participation channels, e.g. information and feedback requirements during permit procedures. It also organizes stakeholder meetings throughout the policymaking process to get the local public and private sector involved. One such initiative to facilitate communication and exchange of ideas is the yearly Kustforum event. It gives the opportunity to all parties at the coast to enter into a dialogue with the government, politicians and each other to determine the priorities for the coast.

Among the main non-state actors in Zeebrugge harbour are commercial companies from different sectors. These private sector interests are represented by the Association Port of Zeebrugge Interests (APZI), which is invested in developing and promoting the port. Its website includes agendas and lists of all companies active in the Zeebrugge port. There is also a limited number of residents living in the Old Town who actively participate in decision-making.

The “Vlaamse Baaien” (Flemish Bays) project aims to set up an innovative research platform. The goal is to partly execute the needed research through cooperation between the Flemish government and the private sector.

A number of nature conservation NGOs are also active in Zeebrugge. Natuurpunt is one such organisation and has its own vision on how to maintain natural values along the coast.


Stakeholder perceptions of governance


The graphic below provides a snapshot of how governance in Zeebrugge is perceived by those living and working in the area. The responses are the result of  in-depth interviews conducted with three coastal stakeholders from two stakeholder groups (SH5,6) presented in the list on the right. Interviewees who commented on the mode of governance are plotted on the graph on the left. As these interviews come from a reduced number of interviewees they are not necessarily representative, but provide a snapshot of local opinion.


Stakeholder perceptions graphic


Stakeholder perceptions of governance in Zeebrugge reflect the overall high level of trust in state authorities at the national level. Interviewees agreed that there was good coordination and clear roles and responsibilities. Nevertheless, interviewees mention the need for an integrated plan for coastal planning. Given favorable responses to the participatory nature of governance, as it was in the development of the Master Plan, this is likely to remain a policy strength in Zeebrugge.

Overall, stakeholders perceive coastal protection to be satisfying. This high trust can also be a risk, which leads to the phenomenon where a lot of people are not aware of the risks they are exposed to at the coast. One major challenge is to raise awareness about the possible risks.

People more attentive to daily issues than disaster preparedness

Since the implementation of the Master Plan, the Coastal Division has been active in distributing risk maps and coordinating local actors responsible for disaster management. Initially, however, it was the Flemish government itself that managed all communication to and between the municipalities and province.

State takes key role in early stages of coastal planning

There has been good communication and information sharing. During the process of producing the Master Plan, the government worked to inform people and make them aware of the possible risks and measures for coastal protection.

Participation plays major role in master plan development

Spatial planning for coastal areas has been given little attention. There is legislation concerning construction and river flood risks, but not for coasts. For rivers, developers and communities must consider and take special measures to protect against possible flood risks. In coastal areas the Coastal Division only has an advisory role with respect to spatial planning and construction permits. The difficulty regarding coastal planning has been in creating one integrated, comprehensive plan.

Bringing it all together in one plan is a political challenge

Interviewees stated that the coastal defence is generally in a good condition, with some weak or critical points. Stakeholders noted that since the Flemish government has developed the Master Plan for Coastal Safety, the measures have not yet been fully implemented, since a step by step approach is followed, and the most risky spots have been addressed first. The weak links where measures are currently (i.e. 2016) being designed for implementation tend to be in the harbours, especially in more complex situations at the places and structures where sluices and rivers are flowing into the harbors where a breach could cause a flooding of a larger area in the hinterland.

Fixing weak links along coasts takes some time