Plan aims to reduce construction costs, but environmentalists fear it will lead to the destruction of natural landscape and prevent the implementation of advanced building standards that ensure safety.

By Zafrir Rinat | May.09, 2013

The government is advancing a nationwide housing plan which will enable construction in green areas, endanger trees in areas earmarked for development and alleviate building restrictions.

Environmental organizations fear the plan will lead to the destruction of open areas and natural landscape and prevent the implementation of advanced building standards that ensure safety, parking and environment protection.

“This housing plan is a great disappointment to all those who expected a solution to the exorbitant housing costs,” said attorney Amit Bracha of the environmental organization the Israel Union for Environmental Defense ‏(Adam, Teva V’Din‏). He said the plan consisted of “destructive steps” that would “definitely damage quality of life and the environment.”

The plan was recently drafted in the Prime Minister’s Office and Housing Ministry and has been passed to the other ministries for consideration and comments.

It calls for setting up a ministerial committee for housing and a team consisting of various ministries’ representatives to carry out a nationwide scheme to advance housing construction. The team does not include a representative of the Environmental Protection Ministry.

Under the plan, arable land and areas reserved for recreation on the outskirts of cities will be rezoned to enable the construction of new apartments. These areas include plots near Rehovot and Netanya, which have been classified as metropolitan recreation areas.

Six months ago Haaretz published an Interior Ministry plan to rezone tens of thousands of dunams of open areas in the center of the country for construction. The plan was ultimately shot down due to the strong objection of local authorities and environmental organizations.

The new construction scheme appears to be another attempt to revive that plan. It stipulates that committees for fast-tracking the approval process of large housing construction projects will be authorized to approve construction on private land and evacuating inhabitants.

Local planning and building committees will be given the power to approve large construction plans faster, the plan says. These committees will be able to decide whether to preserve trees without consulting with the Agriculture Ministry’s forestry officials, as they are required to do today.

Under the plan, planning committees will also be able to act without the approval of the Interior Ministry’s planning committee for open areas and farming land. If implemented, this clause will void this committee, which has been instrumental in examining the implications of construction plans on open areas.

The plan also aims to reduce construction costs by faster standardization. The ministerial housing committee will be able to disqualify building standards that lead to higher costs, except in special cases.

“One of the reasons for higher housing costs is the stricter regulations resulting from higher awareness of safety, accessibility, health and environment standards and implementing them regardless of the economic implications,” the plan says.

It suggests authorizing the ministerial housing committee to decide whether to adopt or reject regulations that could impact on the costs of housing construction.

This proposal could also halt the implementation of the green-construction standard advanced by the Environmental Protection Ministry. The Israel Council for Green Construction estimates green building standards can save up to 30 percent in electricity expenses and 20 percent in water costs.

On Wednesday, Bracha slammed the new housing project, saying it was dangerous, destructive and certain to damage the quality of life and environment, without providing a solution to the housing market.

“Building plans for tens of thousands of apartments in large areas in the central region are already suspended because of the lack of sewage treatment plants and transportation infrastructure, or due to the developers’ intention to raise prices,” he said.

“The government must deal with these problems by allocating the appropriate resources and by building more densely in city centers and existing neighborhoods. Instead, the plan takes the easy way out and goes for building in open areas that are reserved for recreation and leisure for the entire public,” he said.