NGO report indicates ecological corridors in Center and Haifa regions are notably vulnerable.

While Israel’s environmental organizations were able to successfully combat four different threats to open spaces in the year 2012, the country has gained 17 brand new threats for the new year.

The threats were unveiled in the sixth annual Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) report, titled “Israel’s Planning and Building Threats to Open Spaces: Annual Report for 2013,” at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning. This year’s report pinpointed 119 threats to Israel’s open spaces for 2013, with 17 new threats – raising the number to nine more than last year.

From 2008 to 2013, the number of threats has increased by 75 percent – with 51 new threats in those years – but in those same years 28 threats have been successfully eliminated, according to the report. In 2012, environmental organizations were triumphant in four out of their six attempts to combat threats.

One of the most major new threats to crop up in 2013 is the fragmentation of the ecological corridor in Carmel-Givot Alonim, where roads and infrastructure present a threat to biodiversity, the report said. Another new threat is the location of the forthcoming desalination plant in Sorek, which will damage hundreds of dunams of agricultural fields, according to SPNI.

While SPNI supports infrastructural development as well as increasing the capacity of the country’s desalination facilities, it favors doing so without hindering natural resources and expanding existing desalination plants rather than building new ones, the group said.

Another new threat presented in the report is the construction slated for open areas in Ness Ziona on kurkar limestone and red loam soils, which are rich in rare plant species. SPNI said it would, again, prefer that the development take place in an alternative location. Yet another new threat is the location of a waste treatment facility promoted by the Environmental Protection Ministry in the hills of Hevel Modi’in. Due to the area’s ecological importance, SPNI argued that the site should be located elsewhere, where damage to nature could be kept at a minimum.

Among the four threats that environmental groups combatted successfully in 2012 were the prevention of the city of Elad’s expansion in the direction of the Nahal Shiloh nature reserve and of the establishment of a new settlement in Katif Nitzana in the western Negev. In addition, the groups were victorious against the construction of a bridge over Nahal Kziv and building in Jerusalem’s Givat Yael section.

The areas in Israel with the highest proportion of threats were the Center with 26%, the Haifa and Carmel region with 17% and the Jerusalem area with 13%, Itamar Ben- David, the report’s author and head of planning at SPNI, demonstrated in a presentation.

Some new focuses of the report this year versus previous years involved a look at open spaces that are associated with energy and water infrastructure, as well as a heavier emphasis on the open spaces found in the Mediterranean Sea, Ben- David explained. Other main challenges addressed in the report’s pages include strengthening existing communities over building new ones, reinforcing the urban environment, advancing a national planning program that contains biodiversity considerations, and changing elements of water and energy legislation, according to Ben- David.

Dividing the threats into categories, the report details 10 threats of new settlement establishment, 29 of transportation development, 11 of energy infrastructure, 17 of rural and agricultural plans, 20 of water infrastructure and 17 of the tourism industry.

While promoting development for the State of Israel is crucial, it is likewise important to preserve the environment in the process, stressed SPNI CEO, Moshe “Kosha” Pakman.

Meanwhile, SPNI vice president and environmental director Nir Papay displayed a map from the Nature journal on a PowerPoint presentation, indicating the biological hotspots around the world – which make up 1.6% of the globe. While Israel is one of the areas marked on the map, the country is not taking enough pains to work environmental issues into the planning process, Papay explained.

“A reform in this field of national planning needs to include several key components, such as the treatment of obstacles preventing the realization of tens of thousands of approved housing unit plans, the allocation of appropriate resources to planning institutions and the anchoring of legislation in public participation,” Papay said.

As far as the future , it is impossible to know how a reform in the planning system might look after the elections, Papay said. But in recent times, there has been a “troublesome trend” afflicting the Interior Ministry and other planning institutions, which have failed to, among other things, declare sites as nature reserves, he added.

The government’s concern for open spaces and other environmental issues have direct socioeconomic implications on the quality of life for residents, Pakman stressed.

“We call on the members of the next Knesset, who will enter their positions in the Knesset in a few weeks, to place environmental subjects at top priority on their agendas and to promote legislation and the protection of open spaces, of the sea, of water, for nature and of biodiversity, in order to bring about real change in the attitude of the state toward these issues,” he said.

Israel’s nature society: State promoting development at expense of open spaces – Haaretz

Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel says that over the past four years threats to open spaces have increased by 75 percent due to plans for various types of construction.
By Zafrir Rinat | Jan.02, 2013

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel has taken the Interior Ministry’s planning administration to task for what it calls a strategic threat to Israel’s open spaces.

The SPNI’s annual report on threats to open spaces says the planning administration is working to compromise protection of open spaces and to promote the narrow interests in development of select groups rather than the good of the public.

According to the report, over the past four years threats to open spaces have increased by 75 percent due to plans for various types of construction. In 2012 there were 119 such threats, including five involving the planning of new communities, roads and energy facilities.

Two threats to open spaces last year were not realized: Plans were shelved for a new neighborhood in the city of Elad, east of Tel Aviv, in part of a nature reserve, and for a new community in the vicinity of Nitzana, in the western Negev. But the report claims there are new, more serious threats, including expansion of the Western Galilee city of Ma’alot into natural woodlands and a new road in the Halutza dunes, in the Negev.

Additional threats from development added last year are a planned desalination plant in dunes south of Rishon Letzion, oil exploration off the shore of Herzliya and Ashdod and infrastructure planned for an ecologically sensitive area near Mount Carmel.

The cabinet had canceled another project threatening open space, a holiday village at Palmahim Beach, in the southern Coastal Plain. But the project is back on the agenda because state authorities failed to ensure the payment of compensation to the developers. The Environmental Protection Ministry says it is negotiating with the developers, a claim a representative of the investors denies.

Environmental groups once aimed most of their barbs at real estate interests as threats against open spaces. But this report reserves most of its ire for the Interior Ministry’s planning administration, with which environmentalists have cooperated in recent years.

The planning administration is moving ahead on two matters now. The first is the implementation of changes to National Master Plan 35 (which determines where construction may be done in Israel ) to allow more building in the center of the country. The second is the unification of all national master plans under a single plan. The National Planning and Building Council yesterday issued instructions to begin this move.

The SPNI report charges that changing National Master Plan 35 poses a great danger to the meager open space left in the central region. It could weaken protection of forests and nature reserves and obviate the system of checks and balances that is in place according to Itamar Ben-David, head of planning in the SPNI.

The Interior Ministry said in a response that it doubted that the SPNI report represented the interests of the public. It also said the changes to National Master Plan 35 were mainly to streamline the construction approval process for in cities. The ministry said unifying all 300 national master plans would simplify their use for planning, explaining that because the final result will be based on existing plans it should be seen as “hope and transparency for the public” rather than as a threat.