Illegal development in Coastal Zones – an international comparative perspective of countries in the Global North


  • Ines Calor CEGOT - Centre of Studies in Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Porto - Portugal
  • Rachelle Alterman Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and Neaman Institute for National Policy Research, Technion




In recent decades, tourist and recreational activities have brought major financial and social significance to coastal zones, accompanied by escalating property values and demand for development. A recent publication has documented that in the majority of the fifteen Global North studied countries(1), coastal zones benefit from specially high restrictions on planning development (Alterman and Pellach, 2020). Our research hypothesis is that coastal zones, even in advanced-economy countries, encounter higher planning restriction, higher development pressure and equally ineffective enforcement, and thus attract more illegality relative to the general degrees of noncompliance typical of each country.

The motivations for construction along the coast are very different among types of populations and economies. In developing countries or in poor urban areas, location along the coast may reflect an intrinsic need, such as by fishermen or port workers. By contrast, in advanced-economy countries the magnets are the high property values attached to sea view and beach access. There, small infringements of planning laws can be found in summer homes, tourist developments or seasonal commercial services. As argued  in our previous research, we defend the use of the term “informality” for the contexts typical of developing-countries, and “illegality” for most infringements (with a few special exceptions) in advanced economies (Calor and Alterman, 2017; Alterman and Calor, 2020)⁠. The presentation will provide a framework for cross-national comparative analysis of illegal development in coastal areas, focusing on advanced-economy countries. The research is based on two levels of information: background information on types of coastal-zone illegality and enforcement patterns – based on reports for Global North countries (Alterman and Pellach, 2020)⁠ -  and an in-depth analysis of four selected countries (Portugal, Israel, Spain and Greece). The case studies will highlight different types of socio-demographic and regulatory contexts and will thus also expose the dilemmas surrounding the use of the terms “informality” and “illegality”. In the perspective of a turbulent future affected by climate change and sea-level rise, the lessons learned from our comparison can be relevant to other developed and developing countries as they try to strengthen their coastal preservation policies.

(1)          United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Greece, Malta, Turkey, Israel, Australia, and United States of America


Alterman, R. and Calor, I. (2020). Between informal and illegal in the Global North: Planning law, enforcement and justified non-compliance. In: U. Grashoff (ed.) Comparative Approaches to Informal Housing Around the Globe. London: ULC Press. Available at:

Alterman, R. and Pellach, C. (2020). Regulating Coastal Zones: International Approaches. Routledge. Available at:

Calor, I. and Alterman, R. (2017). When enforcement fails. Comparative analysis of the legal and planning responses to non-compliant development in two advanced-economy countries. International Journal of Law in the Built Environment, 9(3), pp. 207–239. Available at: