The Landscape Guide

6.5 Coastal planning

Contents list

All the world's great cities have developed beside water. Yet water planning is hardly ever integrated with city planning. Cities have been seen as one thing and water bodies as something else. This was partly because the relevant water maps and water data were not available, but mainly because the people with the power lived in towns and were primarily concerned with the welfare of their own domain. The availability of new data and a growing appreciation that we inhabit one earth with one destiny are changing the situation. The following example, of a coastal plan, could not be implemented unless a way is found of bringing together the planning procedures for coastal protection, agriculture, water, sewerage, recreation and habitat management.

Consider a hypothetical coastal resort in North Europe. It was a small fishing and farming village until the late nineteenth century. Then came economic decline. Refrigeration allowed cheap fish to be imported from afar. Grain from the American prairies flooded into Europe. Luckily, the railways brought a new source of income. Visitors came to enjoy the scenery, sit on the beach, catch fish and sail in tarry boats. This trade survived until the 1960s, when holiday-makers moved to the beaches of Southern Europe, in search of sun, sea and sex. The northern village is now sinking further into economic decline. What can be done? The municipal council is in thrall to the town's past. Every few years, when the weather is really hot, advertising agents are employed to illustrate sunbathers in the latest fashions (Figure 6.11). New sea walls are built to defend farmland against the sea. New sea outfalls are built to improve bathing conditions. Subsidies are requested for fishermen. So-called "landscaping schemes' are prepared to make the promenade more attractive. It does not work. To keep the local shops alive, permission has to be given for large caravan and chalet sites. They spoil the scenery.

What the town most needs is new ideas and new information, which a GIS-based planning system could provide. A compact disc with information about North Europe's tourist industry could be useful. It would show what facilities are available elsewhere and what visitor numbers they attract. This might reveal that a coastal town in another country had done well by shifting the focus from sunbathing-type use to health-giving active holidays. Data on skin cancer and the restorative effects of physical activity would support the case for change. Another CDP prepared by wildlife groups could reveal the ways in which coasts are of great interest to botanists and ornithologists, because of the unpolluted marine environment and the relatively undisturbed native vegetation. Some farmland could be allowed to revert to marshland. Another section of the CDP, on scenic quality, would draw attention to the unique marriage of water, reeds and sky, especially in contrast with church steeples in a flat landscape.

Putting this information together, the town council would be able to formulate an imaginative and sustainable development plan, using the idea of green tourism. Instead of caravans on mown grass, the town could develop summer houses with moorings set amongst creeks, reeds and willows. New channels could be dug to allow encroachment by the sea into agricultural areas, also providing some higher land for building. New roads could be of unsealed gravel. Sewage could be composted instead of discharged at sea. Self-build housing could be encouraged, using good materials. New footpaths and bridleways could be planned. Amateur sea fishing could be developed. An architectural competition could be held for a beautiful multi-purpose landmark building. In summer it could be used for concerts, in winter for conferences. The town could become an outpost in the salt marsh, as it had been in the Middle Ages, famous for its seabirds, fish, salty air, music, sweet-scented windflowers, reeds, eccentric cottages and overwhelming air of peace.

Another advantage of the coastal CDP is that it could provide each special-interest tourist group with its own map. Data sets would be prepared for botanists, ornithologists, zoologists, geologists, local historians, industrial historians, literary historians, agrarian historians, swimmers, sailors, gourmets, real ale drinkers, artists, equestrians, walkers, cyclists and others. Each has information needs that cannot be met by general issue maps. Cyclists, for example, when selecting a recreational route, need to know about gradients, motor traffic, wind exposure and scenic quality. For these purposes, a three-dimensional map is more useful than a plan. Peter Powers has published special maps for cyclists, which show routes in three dimensions (Powers, 1987).