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Environmental conflicts in coastal urban areas: the Belgian case-studies of Ostend Airport, Schipdonk Canal and Zeebrugge Harbour

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  • Communication
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • Political Science


With the growing awareness of environmental sustainability issues worldwide, there has been a proliferation of responses and measures in the Flanders region of Belgium since late 1980s. While the environmental measures are proliferating, the pervasive growth based economic development pressures have not gone away, leading to the unfolding of a variety of conflicts and their further intensification. Typically the conflicts between, on the one side local residents, environmental NGO’s, green parties and on the other side economic developers, enterprises and the government rise when open spaces are claimed for economic purposes and projects. Based on an inventory of a larger number of such conflicts in the Belgian coastal area, this chapter presents an in-depth analyses of three specifically selected conflict cases – privatization of Ostend airport, widening of Schipdonk canal, and inland expansion of the Zee-Brugge harbour. All the three cases are characterized by economic development interests vs. environmental protection. The conflicts are mainly triggered by the initiation of these infrastructural projects that are being imagined to unfold greater economic prosperity in the otherwise economically depressed coastal region of West Flanders province. The infrastructural logic of improved connectivity and efficiency for reducing the cost of doing business [increased economic development] is a short term interest that is in conflict with the long term environmental benefits of the natural resources and eco-system services of coastal space. Decisions about these infrastructural projects are made project-wise and not within the framework of an overarching mobility plan that has a participatory approach at its core and duly takes into account the long-term environmental benefits, leaving the decision making process for all three cases unguided and not concerted. The conflicts are aggravated by the lack of participatory approach in these projects and, specifically, the perceived lack of communication between the Flemish government and local residents. Underpinning the detailed analyses of these three conflict cases presented in this chapter is the main argument that an in-depth understanding of the nature of these conflicts - the way they are constructed and evolved, their thematic and typological classification, their current trends and possible future impacts – is not only a prerequisite for their resolution but also for imagining alternative and more sustainable futures in the coastal urban environment.

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