Housing Ministry Publishes Tenders Forcing Planners to Build in West Bank

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Leading construction planning companies are steering clear of a Housing and Construction Ministry tender for the initial planning of new neighborhoods, both within the Green Line and across it. Participation in the tender requires urban planners to commit to planning housing projects in the West Bank.

The tender is divided into three clusters, each of which includes projects in  the West Bank and within the Green Line. The clusters are projects in Lod and Kfar Yona, as well as the settlement of Gva’ot in western Gush Etzion, where the plan is to build 1,000 homes; new neighborhoods in Ashkelon and the building of 3,700 homes in Maaleh Adumim; and construction in Tzur Hadassah, 4,000 units in Jerusalem’s Atarot neighborhood (across the Green Line in the northern part of the city) and homes on Eitam Hill in the settlement of Efrat.

The combined projects are worth between NIS 7 million to NIS 12 million to the planning firms.

In the past, only the Israel Lands Authority has issued tenders to planning companies, which are responsible for drawing up the initial plan for the residential neighborhoods, advancing the urban planning schemes (taba) getting them approved by the relevant authorities and obtaining the final approval of the map for the purposes of orderly land registration.

However, those who in the past won ILA recognition as “approved planning companies” were allowed to choose which of the available projects they wanted to work on. By contrast, the Housing Ministry tenders are seeking planners for these particular clusters and requiring that bidders commit to work on the entire cluster.

As a result, several leading planning firms have decided not to participate in the tender.

No urban planner was willing to speak on the record, fearing the loss of work in the future. But the senior executive of one large planning firm said, “We cannot bid in these tenders and not just for political reasons. We are concerned about problems liable to arise, such as building on private land through an unregulated process.”

Another planner said his office would not bid because it won’t work over the Green Line. “It’s clear that there’s a political intent in the structure of this tender,” he said. “After all, they could have made separate clusters. This is meant to give preference to planners of a certain political persuasion and to do without a large group of architects and planners who aren’t prepared to do this.” The current Housing and Construction Minister is Uri Ariel of Habayit Hayehudi.

The Housing and Construction Ministry noted that it had always planned projects in Judea and Samaria, and that these tenders merely constituted a new way of working that aimed “to streamline the planning process for the purpose of marketing land for residential neighborhoods.” The ministry stressed that all the projects included in these tenders were already part of the ministry’s plans for the central and Jerusalem regions.

“The main guiding consideration in deciding on the mix of communities in each cluster was to build a ‘basket’ of sites that together assure the [tender] winner an attractive package from a commercial perspective,” the ministry said. “The ministry has in the past also planned [communities] in Judea and Samaria, as in the rest of the country, by directly engaging planning firms. This process will neither reduce nor increase the scope of the ministry’s involvement within or over the Green Line.”

Construction work in Elazar, a settlement in the Gush Etzion bloc, in July 2010.Credit: AP

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