Legal aspects of creating floating cities

Dr. P.J. (Pernille) van der Plank, Researcher Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law (Utrecht University)

The development of floating cities is increasingly mentioned as an opportunity to adapt to rising sea levels, but also as a way to create land. A growing world population and increasing drought are expected to lead to a shortage of agricultural land the size of North America within the next fifty years. Research shows that it is technically possible to develop platforms on which floating residential areas, or even entire floating cities, can be built.

However, developing these floating platforms raises very complex legal issues. In my presentation, I will elaborate on some of these issues. Some examples: in almost all Western legal systems, a floating platform (which serves as the basis for a floating city) is legally considered to be a ship. As a result, building on water is subject to very different regulations than building the same structures on land.

There is also the question of whether a floating platform qualifies as movable or immovable property. Under Dutch law, a ship is regarded as movable property. As a result, a ship cannot be divided into apartment rights and cannot be encumbered with limited real rights, such as a leasehold or a building right. Perhaps even more importantly, the ownership of a floating platform cannot be split. Although land can be subdivided, under the current law this is not possible for floating platforms.

In my presentation, I will give an overview of the various legal issues that arise when building on water and I will discuss the bill that I recently drafted, together with Prof. H.D. Ploeger, to amend Dutch law in this area.

Keywords – Property law, Floating cities, Legal aspects


I am a university lecturer at the Molengraaff Institute for private law at Utrecht University and researcher at the Utrecht centre for water, oceans and sustainability law. I combine working at Utrecht University with working as adviser of the leading law firm Houthoff, where I lead the research group of the real estate practice group. I obtained my doctorate from Raboud University Nijmegen in 2016 with a thesis entitled 'Accesssion to immovable property'. One of the salient issues I addressed in my dissertation was the ownership of floating objects. I’m a member of the thinktank Governance floating cities.

My research is characterized by the way it bridges the gap between legal theory and legal practice. In my research, I offer hands-on solutions for a number of salient practical legal issues in the field of property law on the basis of a legal-dogmatic analysis of relevant statutory and case law.

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