PM Unveils Planning Reform: Quicker and More Transparent

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled his ideas for reforming the country's planning and building authorities in a bid to make the construction process more efficient.

The plan, which Netanyahu presented at a press conference yesterday, was hashed out by the Prime Minister's Office, Interior Ministry and Finance Ministry over the past three months.

The move would be the first step toward extending economic reforms into the building sector, said Netanyahu, calling the current procedure a "path of tribulations" and a "bureaucratic monster."

"Our growth came about because of major reforms, but this happened without the construction sector. Growth occurred despite the strong choke hold on the sector, one example being the hellish bureaucratic circles necessary to build in Israel. If we can get rid of these obstructions, we can set forth an incredible growth engine to enable the vision of regional economic strength."

Netanyahu added that apartment prices are too high because half the cost is the cost of the land; this makes life difficult for young couples. "That can change, and we'll address this in three ways - we'll increase the supply of land, we'll create a national transportation network to connect the Negev to the Galilee, and we'll stage a revolution in planning and construction," he said.

"We can't continue to be ranked 120th in the world in terms of building permits issued, while we're among the top-ranked in terms of household computer ownership. In the field of planning, we're at the bottom of the third-world countries."

The reform, which will replace the current law from 1965, includes 90 amendments in three major fields - efficiency, transparency and fighting corruption, Netanyahu said. The prime minister intends to have the bill pass its first reading during the next Knesset winter session, and to have it pass its second and third readings - thus becoming law - in the following session.

While Netanyahu detailed only a small portion of the reform, he said planning committee sessions would no longer be held behind closed doors - they would be open and broadcast online. He said a special police division would be set up to fight corruption in planning and construction.

Eyal Gabbai, the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, said the bill opened with the sentence "One plan will be approved in one committee."

Currently, building plans may be discussed in several committees and go through several appeal processes. This would change under the reform - plans that currently begin in a local planning committee and continue in a district planning committee would be dealt with only by the local committee.

In addition, local committees would be made more professional and their sessions would become open, he said. Opponents to a plan would be able to submit only one appeal, as opposed to appealing at every stage of the process, as is currently allowed, he said.

In addition, building committees would receive two public representatives with votes. These representatives would be chosen by a special committee led by a district court judge. The reform would include sanctions for committees that don't function properly, delay plans, or are suspected of corruption and conflicts of interest. The interior minister could dissolve such committees and appoint new ones in their place - something that cannot be done currently, said Gabbai.

Two national-level committees - the committee for preserving the coastal environment and the committee for preserving agricultural land and open spaces - would be done away with. The national authority for planning and construction would take on their responsibilities to shorten the procedure, Gabbai said.

The reform also addresses licensing and sets three procedures - an exemption from licensing for building fences of up to two meters and installing solar panels; a 45-day-or-less procedure for requests to close off patios, install elevators and build pergolas or additions of up to 25 meters; and a 90-day procedure for the full planning process, including new construction.

Not everyone was happy with the reform plan, which took criticism for its environmental and social aspects.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan criticized the plans, which he said could damage open spaces and quality of life. The coalition of environmental and social organizations complained that while the plan is supposed to advance transparency, it was hashed out behind closed doors.