The vulnerability of coastal areas to associated hazards is increasing due to population growth, development pressure and climate change. It is incumbent on coastal governance regimes to address the vulnerability of coastal inhabitants to these hazards. This is especially so at the local level where development planning and control has a direct impact on the vulnerability of coastal communities. To reduce the vulnerability of coastal populations, risk mitigation and adaptation strategies need to be built into local spatial planning processes. Local government, however, operates within a complex hierarchal governance framework which may promote or limit particular actions. It is important, therefore, to understand how local coastal planning practices are shaped by national and supranational entities. Local governments also have to respond to the demands of local populations. Consequently, it is important to understand local populations' perceptions of coastal risk and its management. Adopting an in-depth study of coastal planning in County Mayo, Ireland, this paper evaluates: (a) how European and national policies and legislation shape coastal risk management at local level; (b) the incorporation of risk management strategies into local plans; and (c) local perception of coastal risks and risk management. Despite a strong steer from supranational and national legislation and policy, statutory local plans are found to be lacking in appropriate risk mitigation or adaptation strategies. Local residents appear to be lulled into a sense of complacency towards these risks because of the low level of attention afforded to them by the local planning authorities. To avoid potentially disastrous consequences for local residents and businesses, it is imperative that this situation is redressed urgently. Based on our analysis, we recommend: the development and implementation of a national ICZM strategy, supported by detailed local ICZM plans; and obliging local government to address known risks in their plans rather than defer them to project level decision making. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.