Harbours – The procedures

Obtaining a state concession implies complying with several procedures, which can often be complex and cumbersome. Tourist harbours are subjected to special and simplified regulations

by Paolo Viola*

The disastrous situation of Italian burocracy, especially when several public bodies are involved in the approval of a given project, has generated a state of permanent mistrust in our country when applying for any kind of authorisation or simply for a standard permit to implement a project. This mistrust turns into outright fear when the project in question is a maritime state concession because it is well known that in this case the bodies who need to express their consent are even more in number and the regulations to be complied with are particularly intricate. Not everyone knows, however, that until recently tourist harbours and marinas were the exception to this rule because they were subject to a special and simplified regulation (a spinoff of the famous “Bassanini Law”), which, if you followed its procedures carefully and skilfully, actually turned out to be much faster than many had thought and feared. In December of 1997, in fact, a successful collaboration between the Ministries of Transportation, Public Works and Environment (which have different titles today) led Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, then President of the Italian Republic, to issue “Regulations governing the procedure for the concession of maritime state property for the construction of facilities dedicated to recreational boating, in accordance with etc….”, the so-called Burlando Decree (DPR 509/1997), which defined a special procedure to apply for – and usually obtain – the concessions we are referring to here.


Commander Angelo Zerilli, a retired ship captain who was responsible for Italian Tourist Harbours for 12 years at the Ministry ofTransportation, and as such was one of the editors of the Burlando Decree, explained to us how and why that Decree – although it is still valid despite the innovations introduced in these past 25 years in the regulations concerning harbours – can no longer be considered a certainty today.

Zerilli stated that the new Government should deal with the issue of tourist harbours by generally revisiting the problems concerning maritime state concessions and possibly solving them permanently. «The Burlando Decree, the Code of Tenders and Law 241/90 are three different procedures that generate confusion today. It is unclear which one needs to be followed, and investors don’t have the necessary certainty of the timeframe needed to get returns on their investments … they leave the task of applying different timeframes up to the Regions and even let them determine different durations for the concessions, for similar requests, regardless of the number of investments needed to build the facilities». And he continues: «Local administrations that do not launch the procedures, bodies like the Conferenze di Servizi (Conferences of Services) whose proceedings can last several years and which still maintain “standard” and never clearly “preremptory” terms of procedure, and the Bolkestein directive that is constantly about to be repealed … but never is! Wouldn’t it be time to finally start working on the many problems that still affect a large part of our coastal areas today?».

We will not repeat the terms of the procedure here, as they are clearly stated in DPR 509/97 (www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:presidente.repubblica:decreto:1997-12-02;509), but will simply limit ourselves to reminding our readers that the application for concession, complete with a preliminary project, needs to be published by the Mayor within twenty days to allow for the submission of possible objections or comparable applications and will then be examined by two following Conferences of Services:
• the first establishes whether the preliminary project can be accepted or not – or whether the one most useful to the community should be selected among the various projects presented by the competition – and imposes possible requirements;
• the second Conference assesses whether the prescriptions listed in the first conference have been inserted correctly. It approves the final project and ends with the issuing of the Maritime State concession which needs to take place “within 30 days from the favourable result of the Conference of Services or the Programme Agreement”.
In fact, a no less important aspect is that “in the case of non-conformities of the project with respect to the urban planning instruments in force”, it is approved by the same Conference by means of a “Programme Agreement”.


With regards to the consistency and degree of definition of “preliminary” and “final” projects, a specific Ministerial Decree issued just five months later (DM 16 April 1998) clearly states what is required for one (Annex 1) and the other (Annex 2). The requirements are very demanding in terms of environmental issues and hydraulic and maritime works, less burdensome in the case of construction projects for groundworks, although these are a point of reference for consistent urban regeneration.

To conclude, if the submitted documentation is complete and correct if the procedure is followed scrupulously if you have the authoritativeness and tenacity to make sure the Public Administration respects the times established in the Burlando Decree and in the regulations governing the Institute of Conferences of Services, the time needed to complete the procedure might even be quite short.  However, the Marine Authority and Municipal Administration must be favourable to the proposal and convinced of the opportunity granted by the Burlando Decree.

If the submitted documentation is complete and correct if the procedure is followed scrupulously if you have the authoritativeness and tenacity to make sure the Public Administration respects the times established in the Burlando Decree and in the regulations governing the Institute of Conferences of Services, the time needed to complete the procedure might even be quite short.

A separate chapter should be dedicated to the complexity of the project: in fact, it is commonly believed that the project of a tourist harbour substantially consists of a plan of the stretch of water (the defence works, moorings and jetties which are generally organised in such a way as to exploit the stretch of water beyond belief) and some ground works (harbour services, roads, and parking). But this is not actually the case.

Generally, any project, from the choice of the site to the complex relations of the harbour with the surrounding territory, involves several disciplines. For instance, just to mention a few, there are urban planning and landscape, marine biology and archaeology, environmental and social sustainability, market research and business plan, safety at sea and in the berth, but also legal consultancies in administrative law, procurement and consumption of energy and drinking water, basin pollution and the waste cycle, etc. This is a long list of competences that are normally not available within architectural or engineering firms, even if they are structured as professional firms, and which need to be brought to the table of the project from its very outset. The more complete and convincing the project is, the more likely will it be that the approval process goes smoothly and is concluded within a reasonable timeframe. If the Government were to follow the auspices of Commander Zerilli and clarify the points of the regulations that are still unclear, the hub we wrote about last month could finally see the light, transform our coasts with quality tourism, and bring the legitimately expected well-being.

Paolo Viola (Naples, 1936) is an engineer and urban planner specialising in harbour design, head of the “Marina & Waterfront” area at WiP Architetti s.r.l.

(Harbours – The procedures – Barchemagazine.com – May 2023)