03/10/2011 21:30

Fast-track c’tees could endanger public health, destroy green open spaces in cities, ministry says in a statement.

If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s housing solution is approved in its current form, it would be nothing short of an environmental disaster, the Environmental Protection Ministry conveyed in no uncertain terms on Thursday.

Netanyahu plans to bring his proposal to the cabinet for approval on Sunday.

In a detailed statement of its position, the ministry railed against the creation of fast-track housing committees that would have the ability to approve plans without environmental assessments. The committees would be able to approve the construction of infrastructure projects that could have a significant effect on the country’s environment and the public’s health, the ministry said.

“Without a proper environmental assessment, these installations could cause significant damage to the environment, endanger the public and damage its health, and to advance them without any sort of survey or environmental assessment of their impact is totally unreasonable!” the ministry wrote.

According to Israel Land Authority data, the real problem with housing was not the lack of available plots and plans, the ministry said.

There were 280,000 units in the planning stages and another 160,000 units approved on public land but that haven’t been built.

The housing shortage is estimated at 100,000 units.

The real solution was to remove the barriers and speed up existing planning mechanisms by adding manpower to the Interior Ministry, the Environmental Protection Ministry insisted. The ministry cited barriers such as developers holding onto housing projects to increase their prices, the need to connect housing to the necessary infrastructure, and local authorities looking for better deals.

If the prime minister’s proposal was approved, it would mean that housing units could be approved for open spaces inside cities, along what little remains unexploited of the coast and in other open spaces. Such a move would be extremely bad for the environment, the ministry said.

The new fast-track committees would also wreak havoc with current planning priorities by leapfrogging over all of the projects already in the planning stages. Moreover, if those committees and the regular planning apparatus continued to work in parallel, there would likely be a glut of apartments created, the ministry said.

The fast-track committees would also force the government to adopt a single planning perspective rather than allowing ministry officials to air their concerns as is the case within the current planning apparatus, the ministry wrote.

A 14-day limit on providing an environmental assessment of the potential damage of a 200-unit housing complex was frankly impossible, the ministry ridiculed. “And then to say that if the ministry did not submit its opinion within 14 days, it would not be able to share its opinion at all is totally unreasonable,” the ministry said.

Netanyahu’s plan calls for experts from the private sector to be consulted instead.

“There is no need to involve outside experts who are subject to a variety of pressures and influence. The answer is to add more manpower to the ministry’s planning division,” the ministry declared.

The fast-track committees, which would be deployed for 18 months, were first used in the 1990s to meet demand for housing as a result of the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The ministry listed a number of specific examples of how those committees from the 1990s generated problems that continue to this day.

“The Ein Hemed neighborhood near Jerusalem was built without a transportation solution and to this day is connected to the Jerusalem- Tel Aviv Highway through an unofficial road. The Ganei Ya’ar neighborhood in Lod is geographically isolated from the rest of the city and built without any open spaces, the Tzoran settlement was built next to the Hallel broadcasting station, which necessitated moving the station after a campaign by residents, and the Gamal neighborhood in the Ramon Crater that now must be relocated away from a sensitive area, and more,” the ministry said.