Setback area

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Definition of Setback area:
A strip along the coastal zone, where certain development activities are prohibited or significantly restricted[1].
This is the common definition for Setback area, other definitions can be discussed in the article

Table 1. Setback lines in different countries. [2][3].

The setback area is delimited by setback lines, the distance from the shoreline (generally the high-water line, sometimes the dunefoot or first vegetation line) where private hard constructions are prohibited. Setback lines are a popular coastal zone planning instrument in many countries, see Table 1. Although these setback lines are laid down in coastal regulations, they are often poorly enforced in practice. An illustration is shown in Fig. 1. Moreover, they are rarely based on a statistical analysis of extreme conditions and in that case they do not offer any guarantee of flood protection. The absence of setback lines can lead to dramatic situations, as illustrated in Fig. 2. Such situations occur in many coastal areas, where small-scale fishery is the main source of income for a fast-growing population.

Provisions equivalent to coastal setback lines exist in some other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, private building is forbidden in the coastal defense zone (beach, seadike, first dune row), while building in the coastal dune belt is prohibited under the European NATURA directives.

In the US, several states impose a setback aera that is related to the local long-term coastline erosion. The width of the setback area varies from 30 to 60 times the annual rate of shoreline retreat.

Figure 1. Urbanization of setback area in Kerala (India).
Figure 2. Destruction of fishermen's houses on the beach of Saint-Louis (Senegal) by swell waves at high springtide (March 2015).


  1. Mangor, Karsten. 2004. “Shoreline Management Guidelines”. DHI Water and Environment, 294pp.
  2. Simpson, M.C., Mercer Clarke, C.S.L., Clarke, J.D., Scott, D. and Clarke, A.J. 2012. Coastal Setbacks in Latin America and the Caribbean; A Study of Emerging Issues and Trends that Inform Guidelines for Coastal Planning and Development Inter-American Development Bank VPS/ESG TECHNICAL NOTE No. IDB - TN - 476
  3. Rochette, J. and R. Billé. 2010. Analysis of the Mediterranean ICZM Protocol: At the crossroads between the rationality of provisions and the logic of negotiations. Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). Paris. 62 pp.

The main author of this article is Job Dronkers
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Job Dronkers (2019): Setback area. Available from [accessed on 23-01-2020]