Housing reform should not come at the expense of the environment
Lowering prices isn’t everything: protesters and politicians should not trample the environment in race to lower protester’s rent.
The housing protest is ratcheting up the pressure on the government to come up with solutions that will impress the public with their extent and speed of implementation. There is a real danger that such solutions will lead to the sacrifice of nature and landscape, to building plans too quickly approved.
The Knesset is now legislating the national housing committee bill, which would allow extensive and expedited approval of construction plans for residential housing.
These plans would be more powerful than regional master plans which took into account various needs, among them the conservation of open spaces.
Mayors and real estate figures - who see the housing protest as a political and economic opportunity - have begun to call for agricultural land once again to be rezoned for construction. There are calls, for example, to build thousands of housing units in areas planned as part of Ariel Sharon Park - the most important green lung of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.
The solution to the housing crisis is in expanding supply and streamlining the process of planning and obtaining permits. The reforms must be completed in the Israel Lands Administration to make it easier to obtain approval for construction plans, while finding solutions for the construction of infrastructure and transportation, and expediting implementation of plans that have already been approved.
But speed is not everything. Responsible planning requires taking into account environmental considerations to hold onto green spaces for the coming generations. At the same time, environmental groups should not automatically oppose every development plan.
Today, there are enough areas to build on without destroying nature and landscape. According to Interior Ministry statistics, 985 square kilometers of land has been earmarked for construction under regional master plans - above and beyond the expected demand until the end of the current decade and even the next decade. In many areas, there are lands where construction of more than 100,000 housing units has been approved. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is blurring these statistics because he is worried about a delay in the implementation of the reforms.
The government must remove the obstacles and expand the supply of housing in a way that the public can have faith in, and not as assets of nature and land valuable to all of us because of momentary political pressure.