Proposed amendment to Planning and Building Law, would make Israel’s overarching environmental plans nonbinding.
By Zafrir Rinat | Jun.27, 2013

Environmental organizations are up in arms over a government proposal to do away with what they view as a key tool for protecting the environment: binding national master plans.

The proposed amendment to the Planning and Building Law, which was circulated to various government offices this week, would make such plans nonbinding. The plans would continue to serve as guidelines but could be violated under certain conditions, to be determined by the interior minister.

It’s not clear who is behind the proposal, since no government agency has admitted authorship. But some agencies have long been critical of the planning bureaucracy and sought to reduce its ability to alter or delay construction plans. This document is just the latest of several changes to the planning process that various government agencies are now pushing.

National master plans are the state’s main tool for ensuring that it retains enough land reserves for various purposes. But if the proposal were adopted, residential construction that deviated from these plans would be possible without the approval of the National Planning and Building Council, which is required today.

The document argues that the current process is cumbersome and causes unnecessary delays. “To approve a plan for a few hundred units, you need another hearing in the national council because at the edge of the lot there are a few bushes included in the national master plan for forestation,” it said.

Though it didn’t cite specific examples, construction plans for Jerusalem’s Mitzpeh Naftoah neighborhood currently need national council approval because they violate the master plan for forestation.

The Interior Ministry’s planning administration is now working on a single national master plan that would unite all the existing master plans and thereby streamline planning processes. But the document’s authors evidently don’t consider this sufficient.

The document also proposes another major change. Currently, planning authorities won’t issue a building permit for new housing until all necessary public infrastructure – roads, electricity and water systems, sewage treatment plants, etc. – has been finished. The document proposes issuing permits upfront, but not letting contractors populate the houses until the infrastructure is in place.

This seeming technicality could have far-reaching consequences: If houses are built before infrastructure is in place, there’s a risk that they would end up being populated before the infrastructure was ready, since home owners would likely exert great pressure to be allowed to move in as soon as possible.

“There’s no doubt this is the most delusional governmental proposal we’ve seen yet in the planning realm,” said Itamar Ben-David, chief environmental planner of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. “It means the elimination of planning fundamentals. This will hurt the ordinary citizen in every area of life, including housing, open spaces, infrastructure, transportation and more.

“Instead of focusing on solving the housing crisis and the rise in prices, every day a new proposal arises that undermines the fundamentals of planning in Israel,” he continued. “These initiatives cause uncertainty and confusion, and they paralyze the local housing market. Thorough, responsible planning is an inseparable part of our quality of life.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry said it opposes the proposed change, while the Interior Ministry’s planning administration said it was unfamiliar with the document. The Housing and Construction Ministry, which green groups fingered as being behind the proposal, also denied any connection to it. “We don’t comment on half-baked ideas in the Interior Ministry’s jurisdiction,” it said.