Ministry Insists: Expand Cities to Open Spaces

Environmental groups oppose, claim there's plenty of room to build within the cities.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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An eastward view of Rishon Letzion.
An eastward view of Rishon Letzion.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Interior Ministry is forging ahead with a controversial plan to build housing on open spaces, despite opposition by environmentalists.

Next week the ministry will bring the plan for approval to the National Council for Planning and Building.

The plan is evoking vehement opposition by environmental groups, which claim there's enough reserve within the cities for building homes. But the plan is likely to be approved by the council, since it is supported by numerous government ministries.

The plan is as an amendment to National Master Plan (TAMA) 35. This master plan determines the scope and location of development in Israel.

Until now, TAMA 35 was based on dedicating designated construction areas within or close to cities, in areas it called "urban fabrics."

The amendment allows the expansion of such areas by up to 2 percent of their current size. Overall, this translates into construction on 7,500 acres of open land throughout Israel.

Before approving this expansion, the National Council will need to see recommendations made by regional planning committees. One condition is that the contiguity of open spaces not be affected.

Approval of this amendment will mean building on over 500 acres of open spaces near Rishon Letzion and on over 650 acres in Jerusalem, as well as on 250 acres each in Netanya, Ashdod and Beit Shemesh. Most of these open areas contain important features such as natural woodlands or coastal sand dunes. According to planners, this expansion of building reserves is justified as a means to meet government targets of planning and approving 86,000 new housing units a year.

A new and significant update in the plan refers to areas that are termed landscape complexes. These areas contain some unique natural attribute or historic or cultural heritage with strict building and development restrictions. The Jezreel valley, Masada, the Taninim and Na’aman streams are such areas. A team of experts advising the Interior Ministry recommended expanding the total area of such complexes to 200,000 acres, while the head of planning suggests that 180,000 will suffice. The Interior Ministry is recommending an easing of restrictions on laying down infrastructure in these areas, thus severely weakening environmental protection given to these areas because of their uniqueness.

The Society for Protection of Nature in Israel commented that “there is no justification for disrupting urban fabrics and expanding into open areas, since there are sufficient land reserves in current urban areas. This would be an infringement of the basic principles of a national master plan which determined the final frontiers of urban construction in Israel. Expanding these urban fabrics will increase the gap between the center of Israel and its peripheral areas. It will seriously impact processes of urban renewal that could increase available housing while saving usage of land.”

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