The Mediterranean coastline, which has dwindled over the years for the benefit of tourism and housing projects, is liable to be narrowed even further by a new master plan being advanced by the Planning Administration in the Finance Ministry. It would mean encroaching on one of the Israeli public’s most important natural assets, at the initiative of a government body that is meant to secure the future of these lands as an open space.
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These changes to the master plan will be presented to a subcommittee of the National Planning Commission on Tuesday, en route to final approval. The changes are ostensibly aimed at guaranteeing the future of Israel’s beaches. The plan states, among other things, that its purpose is to preserve the nature, landscape and cultural value of these areas.
But the plan’s details tell a completely different story. While the plan does preserve the principle of banning construction within 100 meters (328 feet) of the shoreline, beyond that – in areas that are still an integral part of the beaches – it substantially alters the prevailing situation. The present master plan has succeeded in preserving wide swaths of open land along the coastline by declaring them public lands or agricultural lands. The new plan will remove the protection for much of the land beyond the 100-meter strip – particularly in cities, where these lands are liable to be rezoned for development. Thus, cities like Bat Yam, Herzliya and Netanya are liable to lose large parts of the shoreline that are still open.
Other areas are marked as being part of a “beach complex.” These areas, which include farmlands, fish ponds and natural landscapes, are meant to be preserved as open areas. But planning committees can permit development there if they believe it cannot be implemented elsewhere. There’s no better invitation than that for construction companies and developers to exert pressure to build in those areas.
In the future, there may have to be various structures and infrastructures built on Israel’s coastline. But along with vital development, as much of these areas as possible should be preserved as open land to protect its landscape and ecological value, as well as providing a place for leisure and recreation. The Israeli public deserves more than a 100-meter-wide strip of beach.
The Planning Administration ought to demonstrate public responsibility and stop advancing this new plan. It should return to the important principle of preserving as much coastline as possible, without abandoning the lands in advance or creating loopholes to be exploited by developers. After all, these are lands that will become increasingly important as the population grows and crowds onto the Mediterranean shoreline.