Greens Say New Zoning Law Would Lay Foundations for More Eyesores Like Holyland

For years now environmental organizations have been crying out over improper procedures they say could allow for approval of building plans that cause considerable environmental damage.

The affairs under investigation in recent weeks, above all the Holyland affair, seem to confirm these claims. However, the green activists are afraid such phenomena will recur with even greater force in the future with the passage of the new planning and building law.

The new planning and building law, which the government is promoting, is slated to come up for its second and third readings in the Knesset in the coming weeks. The law, which is aimed mainly at accelerating planning processes, is destined to bring about a marked change in the entire real estate market.

At the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel they say there are elements in the law liable to become fertile ground for putting together deals that are problematic from the public's perspective.

Cutting down planning times will bring about the reduction of public involvement in the relevant procedures, they say, and thereby increase real estate entrepreneurs' motivation to pay money to various elements who will be able to advance the building plans.

"This law is based on each plan being approved in a single committee, and this will often be small and unbalanced in its makeup," notes Iris Hahn, a planner at SPNI. "This is fertile ground for corruption and arbitrary decisions. Extensive building plans, or plans that release agricultural land for development, need more professional eyes. The new law also makes the discussions in the planning committees secret and does not make it possible to record them. As everyone knows, the light of the sun is the best disinfectant and therefore it is so important for these proceedings to be transparent and open to the public."

According to attorney Eli Ben Ari of Adam, Teva V'Din - the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, in addition to the concern about the influence of elements tainted by corruption in the accelerated procedure, it is possible that decision-makers who want to prove their executive prowess will apply pressure to advance problematic plans.

"We have urged that the law include a provision prohibiting a minister from ordering a representative of his ministry on a planning committee to vote a certain way, so that he will be free from pressures," stresses Ben Ari.

Currently in the pipeline are a number of plans which the greens have expressed reservations over because of deviations from the principles of planning, even though it has not been proven there was any shady business in the procedures.

Among these, for example, is the approval to release extensive lands for building in the area of Kibbutz Ga'ash and Kibbutz Shefayim, and the approval of plans to build a vacation village on the beach at Palmachim, which have been severely criticized by the State Comptroller. Plans to build residential towers in Tel Aviv are also likely to create considerable pressure on planning committees and decision-makers.

"There is no proof of corruption in these plans," stresses Ben Ari. "In principle, we believe it is necessary to scrutinize carefully every plan in which very large building rights are granted for no clear reason."

Today the greens are concerned mainly about infrastructure plans, which are given accelerated approval with the new law. This applies, for example, to plans for erecting water desalinization plants and other facilities along the shore.

Though these are plans advanced by the state, those who will build these installations are private entrepreneurs, whose considerations mostly involve increasing profits and not preserving nature and the landscape.