The cabinet is scheduled to vote today on a planning and zoning reform aimed at streamlining the long and tortuous process that every individual and every contractor must weather to receive a construction permit - whether to renovate an existing home or to build a high-rise apartment building.
Implementing the reform would open up one of the worst bottlenecks in the Israeli economy. Speeding up the procedure and reducing the uncertainty involved would lead to a drop in costs, and as a result in prices as well.
The main idea of the reform is for building plans to be approved rapidly. Toward that end, all construction programs are to be discussed and approved by a single council. At present, after major construction programs are approved by the local planning and building council - a process during which objections may be submitted - they go on to the relevant district council, where the appeals process begins once more.
Under the proposed reform, the local council will issue a decision within 10 months, instead of the current two years, while plans on the district and national levels will be approved within two years rather than seven. To ensure that the local councils' work is carried out properly, experts in relevant fields, as well as two nonpartisan representatives of the public, will be added to the councils. Deliberations will be open to the public and will also be broadcast over the Internet, in order to increase transparency.
The building permit process will also be expedited. Small changes, such as building a fence, will no longer require a permit. Permits for closing in a balcony, adding an elevator or building an addition of up to 25 square meters will be issued within 45 days. The entire process of obtaining permits for constructing new buildings will take 90 days - a significant improvement over the current state of affairs.
The Minister for Environmental Protection, Gilad Erdan, is critical of the proposal, on the grounds that it could lead to the destruction of open spaces and impinge on Israelis' quality of life. Environmental and social-welfare organizations claim that the proposal was put together on the sly, without due consideration of its implications.
The reform should nevertheless be approved today, because it will increase the supply of available homes and reduce housing prices. That said, however, criticism of the proposal should be taken seriously and discussed in detail during the legislative process in the Knesset.
It is essential to maintain the delicate balance between the interests of growth and development, on one hand, and nature and the environment, on the other.
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