Zoning Out

Master Plan Adds 750,000 Acres of Protected Lands

Proposal would also allow rezone areas to allow expansion of Arab communities.

Migrating cranes flock at the Hula Lake conservation area, north of the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, February 14, 2016.
AP

Additional portions of National Master Plan No. 1 are to be presented tomorrow to a subcommittee of the National Building and Planning Council, as part of a process to create a single, current version of the plan.

The portion being presented tomorrow would increase the country’s protected lands by some 300,000 dunams (75,000 acres). The plan also reduces the scope of protected areas on which infrastructure or buildings can be placed.

Master Plan No. 1 is supervised by the Planning Administration’s environmental planner, Moti Kaplan. The plan for the coastline that was debated in the subcommittee last week generated sharp criticism from environmentalists, who claimed it weakened the protections for large areas adjacent to the shore.

The areas covered in the new portion were previously zoned as forests or nature reserves only in local master plans, which made it relatively simple for local planning and building committees to rezone them for construction. Their designation as protected areas in the national master plan will mean the cabinet would have to approve any proposed rezoning.

These lands are located, inter alia, in the eastern Upper Galilee, the valley areas and the Judean plain. In many cases these lands act as important buffer zones that protect ecological systems from the spread of urban areas or infrastructure installations. This is blatant in the Judean plain area, southwest of Beit Shemesh, where additional protection is being given to forests and nature reserves. In this area the construction of the separation barrier and the huge expansion of Beit Shemesh have already reduced the amount of open land.

In addition, the plan reduces that amount of land that can be taken from forests, national parks or reserves for construction. Today up to 30 percent of a protected area can be rezoned for infrastructures and buildings. The new plan lowers this ceiling to 15 percent, and in some places just 7 percent.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, however, notes that it will be easier to obtain approval for new infrastructure, since the authority for such decisions will be devolved from the national planning bodies to the regional planning committees. The SPNI also noted that in some areas so much previously open land has been rezoned for building that the built-up areas should be taken into account when the new calculations are made.

Nature protection agencies will also be subject to construction restrictions in the areas they manage. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, for example, can obtain approval fairly easily to build visitor centers, and in recent years it has erected many of them. Under the new plan, these agencies would have to submit detailed plans, make a case for the need to build and explain how the proposed structure will fit into the site.

To draft the chapter on open spaces, the Planning Administration appointed a team to examine the status of disputed lands. These include large tracts of land west of Jerusalem, for which construction plans had been approved that were vehemently opposed by the Jerusalem municipality and environmental groups. The team decided to give the Heret mountain area protected status and not to allow construction there, while at the same time removing the protected status of another area known as White Ridge. The team also decided to allow building on open lands adjacent to Arab communities, to allow these towns to expand.

After tomorrow’s review, the plans will be returned to the regional zoning boards for fine-tuning before they are submitted to the cabinet for final approval.

Around one-quarter of Israeli lands has protected status as nature reserves, national parks or forests in the various national master plans, but a substantial portion of these lands are in the Negev. North of the Negev the scope of protected spaces is far smaller; often these are small, disconnected nature reserves that cannot serve as habitats for flora and fauna.