New Government Will Attempt to Exert Control Over Planning and Building

It intends to limit the freedom of decision of professional staff on planning committees, in violation of the attorney general’s instructions.

Nimrod Glickman

The new government intends to increase its control over planning authorities and reduce the freedom of action of professional experts in those bodies. That approach is reflected in the coalition agreement between Likud and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, which proposes to legislate the government’s authority to direct its representatives on planning and building committees at all levels on how to vote. Such a proposal violates instructions published by the Attorney General in the past.

A clause in the coalition agreement with Kulanu deals with legislation concerning “national projects.” It states that the two parties are committed to supporting a proposal that the government can declare six or seven projects as “national projects” of major importance at any one time. The government will create a legal mechanism to allow the advancement of those projects as fast as possible and will have the authority to “direct ministerial representatives on planning committees to support government policies in all instances that national projects are involved.”

The proposed wording does not make it clear how the legislation will enable the “direction” of the representatives on planning bodies, but the significance is that it would allow the government to put much greater pressure on the representatives to prevent them from voting against national projects.

The government has made concerted efforts in recent years to shorten planning and building processes by establishing committees authorized to approve such projects in an expedited fashion, while limiting the public’s right to appeal those decisions — and also by bypassing national master plans.

The government has ensured firm majorities on planning bodies for ministerial representatives, but they still have the right to vote on the basis of their own expert judgment – even if the vote is in opposition to a government policy decision.

The Attorney General’s instructions, which were published over a decade ago, stated that ministerial representatives must take government policy into account, but their actions must be based on independent judgment and cannot be subordinated to any instruction, order or even recommendation from any other party — even it comes from the director general of the ministry they represent or the minister himself.

Two years ago, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein received numerous complaints that the Planning Administration in the Interior Ministry had instructed government representatives on how to vote on various plans. Then-deputy attorney general Sarit Dana harshly criticized such pressure and demanded that it stop.

However, pressure is expected to worsen under the new government, in which Kulanu has been granted control over all bodies involved in planning and construction — including the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The Society for the Protection of Nature said in response: “This is a destructive initiative which will lead the planning bodies to be guided by political, rather than professional, considerations. It is also contrary to the instructions of the attorney general. Instead of hearing professional opinions that will lead to a balanced and responsible process of preservation and development, we will get a planning body that is a rubber stamp, devoid of its own professional judgment. It is the continuation of a clear and consistent trend that began with the previous government and is intended to expand the influence of the government in the planning bodies and reduce the possibility of other positions being expressed.”