Speed up permit-issuing now, delay construction planning reforms, they urge.

Representatives of the planning and construction sector and environmentalists held a joint press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday to call on Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government to change course on the Planning and Construction reform.

The press conference featured representatives from organizations that are normally on opposite sides of the issue, such as the Israel Contractors Association on one hand, and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel on the other. All of them came together in a call for Netanyahu split the proposed reform in two.

One by one, the speakers urged the government to aggressively pursue the parts of the reform that have to do with permit-issuing, but put aside for further debate the part that has to do with long-term planning.

“The planning section of the reform will make things worse than they are now, and its implementation will cause chaos in the sector and won’t speed up the planning and construction mechanisms. The Contractors Association believes that the bill ought to be brought back to the negotiation table,” said Yossi Gordon, the association’s director-general.

“At the same time, the association approves the permitting chapter of the bill and believes it is worthwhile to promote it as a process to speed up the issuing of building permits.”

According to a study conducted by the contractors association, permitting bureaucracy is so cumbersome that it accounts for nearly 6 percent of the cost of a new home.

“As representatives of Israel’s environmental organizations on the planning committees, we see the planning institutions as the most important junction for maintaining Israel’s environment and quality of life. The prime minister claims that the reform was formulated in an ordered manner after consultations with professionals and experts from all the relevant fields,” said Nir Papai from the SPNI.

“The fact that we are here today, a coalition of organizations usually on opposing sides of the barricade, proves that the reform proposal was created hurriedly and secretively, while ignoring anything that didn’t fit in with the authors’ wills,” Papai said. “We gathered here today with a clear message that there is an alternative path.

“The prime minister can immediately begin promoting a reform in the permitting regulations and, alongside that, begin a gradual and professional process that will lead to a planning reform that will make sure that Israel’s open spaces are safe from Holyland-style deals, enable public involvement and maintain a wide range of public interests for generations to come.”

Similar arguments were made by Erez Cohen, chairman of the Real Estate Appraisers Association, Amos Brandeis, chairman of the Israel Planners Association, attorney Anat Biran from the Israel Bar Association, and Michael Lipshitz from the Union of Local Authorities – each focusing on his or her organization’s particular interests, but stressing that on the issue of splitting the reform, they were of one mind.

“This coalition was not created by chance. Planning affects the quality of life, environmental surroundings and resource distribution of all of us. Planning decisions are long-term and irreversible, and that’s why there is such widespread agreement that they should be made only after serious and transparent inspection,” said Nadia Mogilevsky, legal council for the Association for Distributive Justice.

Netanyahu’s plan to pass the reform speedily through the cabinet and then the Knesset has faced serious challenges. While MKs and ministers have for the most part remained silent on the proposed reform, the Holyland real estate affair, which highlighted many of the issues that the reform deals with, has made the public exceedingly suspicious of attempts to expedite the legislation.