The Belgian part of the North Sea covers only a small area, though the number of claims to this is very large, considering sea fishing, defence, sand extraction, shipping, wind farms, pipelines and cables etc. Marine spatial planning hence exists to accommodate these various interests.
Marine spatial planning is a process to allocate the space available on sea to certain actors within a certain time frame and at the same time to ensure that the ecological, economic and social objectives are achieved. An ecosystem vision and involvement of all stakeholders are hereby of great importance.
A marine spatial plan for the Belgian part of the North Sea
The minister of the North Sea has taken the initiative to establish a marine spatial plan. This happened in broad consultation with the public services and stakeholders involved and on the basis of all available scientific and socio-economic information.
The Royal Decree of 20 March 2014 anchors the marine spatial plan. You can find the summary of the Royal Decree to establish the marine spatial plan and its four annexes here.
This plan is summarized in a very accessible style in the brochure ‘Something is moving at sea… A marine spatial plan for the Belgian part of the North Sea’.
Belgium as a pioneer of the Marine spatial planning
A scientific study "A sea of Space" identified and listed the activities in the Belgian part of the North Sea, made a preliminary analysis of the interactions between these activities and initiated a spatial structure plan for the sustainable management of the Belgian part of the North Sea.
Promoted by the then Minister of the North Sea, a "North Sea master plan" was approved by a number of cabinets in 2003 and 2004. A number of sand and gravel extraction zones and a concession zone for the wind farms were demarcated (by the Royal Decree of 17th May 2004) in the initial phase (2004). In the second phase (from 2005), the Birds and Habitats Directive areas were established on sea (via the Royal Decree of 14th October 2005).
European and international attention to Marine spatial planning
In 2008, the European Commission issued the communication "Roadmap for maritime spatial planning: working on the common principles in the EU". This constituted an important incentive for the marine spatial planning in the member states. UNESCO-IOC too promotes marine spatial planning, inter alia, through the publication in 2009 of "Marine Spatial Planning. A step-by-step approach towards an ecosystem-based management".
The creation of the marine spatial plan
In 2010, the policy document of the then Secretary of State for the North Sea policy included that "initiatives should be taken to keep this process high on the agenda". The Marine Environment service took the lead to give shape to this engagement.
Since 2012, the marine spatial planning stands high on the political agenda. The planning process has received a legal basis so that this plan can be drawn up as binding. The Marine Environment Act of July 20, 2012 was amended and now determines the modalities for a marine spatial plan for the Belgian waters. The title of the Act too was therefore amended such that it was appropriate to the last amendment to the "Act for the protection of marine environment and for the organisation of marine spatial planning in the maritime regions under the Belgian jurisdiction".
A Royal Decree of 13th November 2012 dictates the establishment of an advisory committee and the procedure for the adoption of a marine spatial plan in the Belgian maritime regions. The Royal Decree of 20th March 2014 adopts the present marine spatial plan (incl. annexes, see above).
From 2 July till 29 September 2013 the FPS Public Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment organized a public consultation about the draft marine spatial plan and the environmental impact assessment.
The public consultation produced a total amount of 140 contributions. These related to the content and the procedure of the plan, and also to the content of the environmental impact assessment. All comments have been carefully considered and the plan has been adapted at several places. You will find all comments and how they have been treated on www.consult-environment.be.