Several PM coalition partners have conditioned their support for the reform on Netanyahu supporting their pet projects.
By Zafrir Rinat | Sep.09, 2012

The government’s wide-ranging planning reform, well into the legislative process, could be shelved due to a new Interior Ministry plan that would cut red tape without overhauling the entire system.

The new plan, for example, would not scrap the system for approving new construction by district planning and construction committees.

One change would end the need for a permit to close off a balcony. The Planning Administration would make it easier for people to submit objections to construction plans. For example, people would have 60 days, not the current 30, to submit an objection to major infrastructure projects.

The government’s reform, which was the brainchild of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was seen as the flagship legislation of the current government. Several of his coalition partners have conditioned their support for the reform on Netanyahu supporting their pet projects.

The reform is based on legislation that has been approved for second and third readings in the Knesset. The bill calls for the scrapping of district master plans and district planning and construction committees.

The legislation would allow experts from the private sector to authorize some construction and limits the options for people to object to construction plans. It would also broaden the powers of local planning and building committees.

A law mandating the establishment of committees to expedite approval of housing plans was passed last year; the committees are already at work and have approved plans for thousands of new apartments.

Environmental groups were the first to object to the legislation, claiming that open spaces could be overrun by development. Real estate and planning experts argued that the bill would create an unwieldy management system. Interior Minister Eli Yishai says the bill is unnecessary.

Meanwhile, a special Knesset committee has approved the bill for its second and third readings. But discussions on the bill ground to a halt six months ago due to disputes in the coalition over affordable housing.

The Interior Ministry says its proposal involves the “simplification, streamlining and decentralization” of the planning system. It says the “motto of the plan is maximum improvement of authorizations and planning, with minimum legislative changes.”

The new plan is more popular among planning experts and environmental groups, while experts at the Prime Minister’s Office and Justice Ministry say legislation should proceed on the broader reform because of the need for deep change.

Even if the new plan goes forward and the current legislation is shelved, the Planning Administration might have to propose broader steps of its own in coordination with the PMO. Pressure for such steps might increase if the housing crisis is not resolved by the placing of more apartments on the market, thereby lowering prices.