Coastal management in The Netherlands is highly decentralized. The bulk of the management activities are performed by local and regional governments and the water boards (waterschappen), composed of landowners and tenants. The water boards have the legal authority to manage the coastlines i.e.: set up coastal defences within their area of jurisdiction. The provincial government supervises their activities and the entire system is overseen at the national level by the ministry of Transport, Public works and Water Management, which acts as the lead coastal agency (Koekebakker and Peet, 1996). In addition to its role as the overseer, the national government plays a lead role in coastal management with respect to issues of national significance.
Lack of space is a major problem in the whole of Netherlands, the coastal areas inclusive. Therefore law closely regulates spatial development. The procedure and the basic rough framework are laid down on national level in the spatial planning Act of 1965.
According to this act, each administrative level (national, provincial, municipal) has to make a spatial planning framework. This document is updated every ten years based on the actual socio-economic developments and other needs of society. All twelve provinces and larger cities are obliged to make a more detailed regional framework, every ten years. Based on the regional plan, all municipalities have their final local plan (Bestemmingsplan). These plans are of importance for coastal policy because the coastal zone, (up to 1km of the coast) belongs to the administrative power of the municipalities. All activities, which have a spatial component such as recreation, housing, nature conservation and industrial citing has to be regulated in the local plans. This means that these local plans have a strong and determining function.
Some writers have ascribed the success in public involvement in coastal management in the Netherlands to the high decentralization of the decision-making organ. The people are quite close to the municipality where the bulk of decisions is made. This makes for efficiency, easy access to information and greater transparency in decision-making.