Toward Spatial Structure for Sustainable Management of Sea (GAUFRE)


Please note:

The Commission is in the process of updating some of the content on this website in light of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. If the site contains content that does not yet reflect the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, it is unintentional and will be addressed.


Ghent University 


Sets out policies and criteria against which planning applications and works licences will be considered; provides policy framework to guide marine development and activity out to 12 nautical miles. SIMSP may also provide a resource for all users of the marine environment including developers, planners and regulators.

Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Not sector specific
Type of practice: 
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What information is available upon which to support MSP in Belgium?
  • How can interactions and competing demands be managed in the Belgian part of the North Sea, based on available data and expert engagement?
  • How can scenarios be used to inform MSP policy and processes?

Implementation Context

The aim of the GAUFRE project (2003-2005) was to build the scientific foundations that would allow for the development of a spatial structure plan for the Belgian section of the North Sea. The underlying reason was the increasing demand for activities at sea and the importance of a spatial planning process for the different North Sea states. GAUFRE was the first step towards such a structure that would take into account possible conflicts between various interested parties and an active participation on behalf of those parties and the general public.

Increasing pressure from activities and limited space on land and at sea demands that society anticipates how the sea can be used in a sustainable way. The North Sea is one of the most exploited areas of water in the world. The Belgian part of the North Sea (BPNS) – with its small size and its central location – lies in the hub of these activities. The GAUFRE project and the resulting report is the first attempt to deal with the high level of use in the BPNS in a structural manner.

Aspects / Objectives

  • Develop a process, procedure and methodology to support MSP in Belgium
  • Gather and present information and data to support MSP
  • Present several scenarios and proposals for a spatial plan


The project was made up of an interdisciplinary team of experts, including scientists and spatial planners, who worked together for two years. New scientific data was collected and existing data was updated. This data was then transferred to GIS maps, which were then used to prepare maps that enabled the data to be interpreted in different ways. The collation of the scientific data on GIS maps and the use of interpretative maps provided a solid starting point for structural planning.

The initial phase collates and presents spatial data in relation to the following aspects: legal designations, geophysical characteristics, ecological aspects, infrastructure, energy, coastal defense, radar and weather masts, wrecks and salvage, military activities, shipping, commercial fisheries, aggregate extraction, recreation and tourism, aquaculture, scientific research, and nature conservation. The resulting images of spatial delimitation and – where possible – intensity, form the basis of the studies in the second and third section of this project.

This is followed by three chapters that deal with specific aspects of Interaction, including:


• Suitability: It is clear that infrastructure and uses not only have an effect on the environment, but that the environment also affects them. This chapter outlines the importance of understanding how use of the Belgian part of the North Sea affects the environment, before space is allocated to that use in a planning context.


• Interaction between users and the environment: This chapter focuses on the impact that infrastructure and uses have on the environment’s capacity to sustain additional or future uses.


• Interaction among users: In the final chapter, infrastructure and uses are compared with each other. Impacts, constraints and opportunities are listed.


Finally, measures towards enabling integration of different users is presented, providing the basis for development of policies supporting spatial management in the Belgian part of the North Sea. This was based on a workshop focussing on different development scenarios.

Outputs include advice on how to make decisions with regard to activities in the area, and stakeholder engagement, also informed through workshops.

Main Outputs / Results

Final report available here:


This project is highly focussed on supporting the development of MSP in the Belgian part of the North Sea and was completed over ten years ago. However, as the project was focussed on development of procedures and not solely the gathering of data, there is much that would be relevant to other jurisdictions in developing planning processes, particularly in the North Sea and those adjacent to Belgium.

Responsible Entity

Ghent University

Costs / Funding Source

The project was financed by the Federal Science Policy in the programme "Second Multiannual Scientific Support Plan for a Sustainable Development  Policy – SPSD II: Global Change, Ecosystems and Biodiversity - Mixed Actions"

Contact Person

Prof Frank Maes, Maritime Institute, Ghent University