On 10 June 2011, the Flemish Government at that time approved the Coastal Safety Master Plan. Almost one third of the coastline was found to be insufficiently safe. The relatively short and heavily populated coastline, with its low-lying polders and significant economic and recreational value, makes our coast extremely vulnerable to heavy storms and flooding from the sea. The plan contains all the possible measures for improving the protection of our 67-kilometre-long coast and hinterland from heavy storm surges. It focuses on the principle of ‘soft where possible, hard where required’.
Permanent structural safety of the coastal area
“Storms, in conjunction with the tides, constitute one of the biggest natural threats in the North Sea region. By carrying out the Coastal Safety Master Plan, we will minimise flood risks and protect our coast against 1,000 years of storm surges. This realisation will involve implementing the necessary sand nourishment, the repair and management of sea defence dunes, the renovation and raising of sea dikes and the protection of our coastal ports. By doing that, we can guarantee the permanent structural safety of the coastal area”, says minister Lydia Peeters.
Ten years on, most of the nourishment has been carried out and a lot of the infrastructural works have been completed. Elsewhere, works are in full swing or studies are being undertaken. “To date, we have invested no less than 240 million euros in creating a safer, more natural and more attractive coast,” says minister Peeters. “Around 130 million euros have gone into hard infrastructures such as storm walls or storm surge defences and 110 million euros into making beaches higher and wider.”
Flemish minister Lydia Peeters: “We stand here today at the site of the Storm Surge Barrier in Nieuwpoort – a feat of architectural and technical ingenuity – with a movable barrier that rotates about a horizontal axis. A project that was chosen together and which takes into account the existing pleasure cruise operations in Nieuwpoort. The decision to use side tubes – so-called bypass sewers – in the abutments was a deliberate choice. Their integration will mean that the flow rate at spring tide no longer increases to more than 3 knots and it will have a positive effect on the sailing traffic capacity.” This is another fine example of how we are working with all the coastal communities to protect the coast and the hinterland against the risk of flooding.
Natural solutions are the preferred option for the implementation of this Master Plan. That way, the coastline will be given extra protection while retaining – or even strengthening – the natural dynamics of the coast. Where appropriate, a higher and wider beach will be created by adding extra sand (so-called beach nourishment). Pilot projects are also being carried out in order to find solutions to the problem of sand being stirred up by high winds. For instance, zones have been planted with marram grass on the beaches in Oosteroever and Raversijde (Ostend).
“This is real collaboration with nature,” says minister Peeters. “Over the years, we have seen the development of a noticeable global trend towards natural sea defence solutions. We, the Flemish government, have been glad to follow the same course. The Building with Nature principle utilises the forces of nature – the wind, tides, flows and waves – in a positive way. It enables us to create a dynamic and resilient coast that can withstand storms and climate change.”
Hard measures when there is no other option
In some zones, a natural solution is either impossible or insufficient. Where that is the case, the Agency for Maritime and Coastal Services (MDK) has built technical structures or hard sea defences, always through collaboration with the coastal communities in order to ensure integration in the environment and recreational added value. In conjunction with higher beaches, some dikes have been widened and provided with storm walls. In order not to obstruct the view from the sea dike, a wave-attenuating extension is often provided.
In both the commercial ports and marinas, there is a risk of flooding via the docks. Here, MDK has provided protection by raising and strengthening dikes, building storm walls around the port or constructing storm surge barriers at the entrance to the port as we have done here in Nieuwpoort.
“The rising sea level, as a result of climate change, is probably the biggest challenge when it comes to protecting our coast in the long term too. “Today, we are looking back on 10 years of the coastal safety plan but we can also look to the future. Continued investment and continued collaboration with coastal communities in order to create a safe, attractive and natural coast remain a priority of my policy and the policy of the Flemish government”, says minister Peeters.