In Israel, Ecologists to Play a Greater Role in Construction Planning

Until now, the planning authorities would take biodiversity into account only after detailed plans had been submitted.

The plot for a planned neighborhood in Sderot, January 5, 2017.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

2017 might have started with discord in Israel and elsewhere, but in the country’s south traditional rivals are cooperating: The nature authorities will now take part in decisions on now much to build, not just try to minimize the ecological damage from construction.

In Sderot near the Gaza Strip, they’ve been able to change the location of a planned residential neighborhood.

At a meeting two weeks ago, the Southern District Planning and Building Committee adopted the new policy that will officially go into effect in June: to consider biodiversity and the benefits of nature in planning and construction.

The policy document is based on a study by ecology expert Iris Bernstein for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

The south makes up 64 percent of Israel’s land mass, and most Israeli construction in the coming years that could mar open spaces will be in this region.

Until now, the planning authorities would take biodiversity into consideration only after detailed plans had been submitted on the extent and location of new construction. This would make major changes almost impossible, allowing only for damage control.

“More than once it became a zero-sum game: Either you built on the land or you protected nature,” said the chairman of the planning and building committee, David Leffler. “If construction hurt biodiversity, it couldn’t be repaired,”

According to the new policy, ecologists will often be involved when plans are being crafted for construction in open areas, even before plans are submitted for preliminary approval.

It’s best to ask an ecologist “before you fall in love with a plan,” Tal Pudim, a planner for the southern district, said during discussions on the new policy. According to Pudim, there’s no difference between involving an ecologist or involving a consultant when planning sewage or transportation, for example.

According to the plan, ecologists will collect information on endangered flora and fauna in the area and on species unique to the area. Also taken into account will be issues such as flood drainage and habitats for insects that pollinate crops high-priority issues in many countries around the world.

The district planning committee is implementing the new policy in a pilot area in Sderot. Preliminary planning has already begun for the construction of 2,800 housing units in the city’s northwest near a large park by the Shikma Stream.

“This is an environmentally sensitive area, so it can be used to check the efficacy of ecological consultations,” said architect Irina Neidman, the planning chief for the Construction and Housing Ministry in the south and a member of the district planning committee.