Israel's Newest National Park Comes Under Threat

New plan proposes building 3,900 housing units in area between two rivers slated for Lod park.

A new neighborhood in Lod.
Tomer Appelbaum

Cabinet ministers are to discuss Sunday whether to fast track a plan to build thousands of homes in an area that had been mooted as a potential national park in Lod.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, under whose aegis the land is supposed to fall, said it had not been consulted about the plan and warned that the environmental impact will be greater than ministers are set to be told.

Expedited approval under a program known as “national prioritized housing” means the decision will be transferred to a special committee, which can quickly give it the nod, bypassing current master plans.

The plan proposes building 3,900 housing units in an area east of Lod — between the Gezer and Ayalon rivers — of about 1,000 dunams (247 acres), in addition to public institutions, commercial premises and open spaces meant to serve the people of Lod.

According to the Finance Ministry’s planning administration department, the plan will “assist in providing housing solutions in central Israel, with a broad response to the need for long-term rentals for residents of the city and its environs.”

The opinion paper that the planning administration prepared ahead of tomorrow’s housing cabinet discussion states that the advantage of building housing in that particular area lies in its central location and proximity to main roads. It also states that although according to various plans the area around the rivers is slated for landscape preservation and a national park, it recommends declaring the area a priority for housing instead.

The environmental importance of the area was identified a few years ago by a team of planners who prepared a master plan for the Ayalon River area. That team recommended developing the area as a riverbank park.

“There is an opportunity here to give the cities of Lod and Ramle a broad, green, high-level park that will be a source of pride for urbanites,” the team’s report stated. It added that such a park could “leverage urban renewal in the centers of veteran cities” and as green surroundings for new neighborhoods.

The area has also been recognized as an ecological corridor through which wildlife can pass, considering that most of the surrounding area has already undergone development for housing and infrastructure.

Referring to tomorrow’s housing cabinet discussion, the INPA said in a statement, “The proposed plan for housing along the Ayalon River was not conveyed to the authority for its opinion before the discussion,” as the INPA believes it should have been. “Prima facie, it seems that the [housing] complex in question will have a greater impact on the environment than what will be presented to the ministers.”