The Dutch part of the North Sea, covering an area of about 58,000 km2 (one and a half the land mass of the Netherlands), is one of the most intensely used marine areas in the world. In 2005, the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment published for the first time a North Sea chapter in their national ‘Spatial Planning Policy Document’. The Dutch marine spatial planning policy aims at preventing fragmentation and promoting the efficient use of space, while giving private parties the scope to develop their own initiatives in the North Sea. This overall goal is elaborated in more detail in the ‘Integrated Management Plan for the North Sea 2015’ (IMPNS 2015) where it is translated into: (1) spatial management to foster a “healthy sea”; (2) spatial management to foster a “safe sea”; and (3) spatial management to foster a “profitable sea” (IMPNS 2015, 2005).
The Dutch government initially (2005) chose a MSP approach that defined ‘use zones’ only where necessary (e.g., shipping routes, military exercise, ecologically valuable areas). This approach allowed a considerable amount of freedom to the private sector by giving them the latitude to develop initiatives within certain constraints. Spatial planning was considered as a means of fostering sustainable use while simultaneously allowing as much scope as possible for private sector initiatives (IMPNS 2015, 2005).
In 2009 a more strategic and forward-looking plan was made with a greater focus on spatial development (Policy Document on the North Sea, 2009). This policy document is now part of the National Water Plan (NWP) and should be read with it. It details and substantiates the policy choices about human uses of the North Sea and their implementation in the NWP.
Finally, in 2010 the National Water Plan, also a strategic framework based on the Dutch Spatial Planning Act, replaced certain policy sections of the National Spatial Strategy, including the spatial plan for the North Sea.
What stimulated Marine Spatial Planning in the Netherlands?
As in other North Sea coastal states, the need for integrated spatial planning became particularly urgent because of new uses requiring ocean space, primarily offshore wind farms and marine protected areas.
While some ocean uses will remain at their current level, considerable growth is forecast for mineral extraction, water sport recreation, offshore wind farms, nature protection and possibly also mariculture.
Recently, the concern of sea level rise in the Netherlands related to climate change has further stimulated the discussion on marine spatial management.
Key elements of Marine Spatial Planning in the Netherlands
Authority: Initiative of the Central Government of the Netherlands
Lead Planning Agency: Interdepartmental Directors’ Consultative Committee North Sea or (Interdepartementaal Directeurenoverleg Noordzee—IDON) led by the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management
Size of Planning Area: 58,000 km2 (territorial sea and EEZ)
Time required to complete the plan: Three years
Drivers of MSP: Space conflicts between projected wind farms, marine transport, port development, sand and gravel extraction, nature conservation, and climate change
Stakeholder participation: Mostly consultations with other federal agencies, major marine industry sectors, and public review of plan documents
Sectors included in planning: Marine transport (shipping), oil and gas, pipelines and cables, commercial fishing, mariculture, military
Relation to coastal management: Not elaborated in plan, but linkages to river basin management plans is discussed briefly
Relation to marine protected area management: The first integrated management plan sets out the boundaries of four areas inthe North Sea in which the ecological features are toreceive extra protection: part of theKustzee, Friese Front, Klaverbank and Doggersbank
Plan approval: MSP plans for the Dutch part of the North Sea became part of the National Water Plan in 2009.
Legal Status of Plan: Advisory, but the plan has the status of a “policy rule” and the government is obliged to act in accordance with it. The plan mainly affects the regulation of use through permitting and is therefore important for permitting authorities and users who apply for a permit.
Plan revision: Every 5 years
Performance monitoring and evaluation: Monitoring is limited to existing programs that are focused on measuring state-of-the-environment indicators (bio-physical only)
The Integrated Management Plan for the North Sea 2015 can be downloaded at:
The Policy Document on the North Sea (2009-2015) can be downloaded at:
The Dutch National Water Plan can be downloaded in English at:
Additional reading is also available on the references page of this website.