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Column Marianne Loof | Who owns the coastline?

09 February 2016

Cobouw marianne loof 160131 van wie is de kust

The suggestion of minister Schultz of Infrastructure and the Environment to relief constraints on construction possibilities along the Dutch coast attracted lots of attention in the past month. The frightened community of experts and nature enthusiasts pictured Belgian scenarios, whereas the minister claimed it only concerned permitting beach pavilions to stay over winter. Schultz disposed prophecies of developers queuing up as exaggeration; surely, municipalities knew how to handle the offered space in a sensible manner. Also, construction along the coast would contribute ‘to the appeal and economic strength of the coastline’. According to minister Schultz, it is a win-win situation.

One does not have to go too far back in time to see the consequences of the last wave of these so-called ‘contributions’ to the coastline. Especially in the small communities, the local government, in cooperation with building enterprises, enthusiastically created numerous win-win models for coastal developments. Take for example Egmond aan Zee, where in this period, local developer Teerenstra built a series of hook-shaped flats with gallery-access, set in the midst of the dunes. Following the latest trends of the seventies, these were complemented by terrace flats, thereby continuing the spoilage of the coastline.

Of course, there is some charm to our missteps from the past, but that does not mean we have to repeat them. Let alone expand to the unspoiled parts of the coast. Meanwhile, Schulz’ plan has been shelved after strong protests. Let’s hope it marks a turnaround in how we think about collective spatial quality. The ultimate question was posed by the landscape architect Adriaan Geuze when he spoke about the continuous expansion of the built environment along the highways: ‘who ordered this?’ The answer is that no one did, but that didn’t stop anyone either. Everyone had adhered to all the procedures and policies. Luckily, the coast is off the hook for now. I hope that this episode has left us longing for more, and that spatial planning as collective interest is put back on the agenda.

February 2016,