After the Southern District Planning Committee approved the construction of a
hotel complex in the Timna Valley on Monday, Environmental Protection Minister
Gilad Erdan said his office will undermine the decision in front of the National
Council for Planning and Building.
After a day-long meeting, the
committee approved the construction of developer Yoav Igra’s Timna hotel complex
in a 10-to-4 vote, a decision that members of Israel Union for Environmental
Defense (IUED) and other environmental groups have been battling since
Building the development, which would include four hotel complexes,
a conference center and an artificial river, would cause “enormous and
irreversible damage” to the unique ecosystem located in Timna’s Sasgon Valley,
the green advocacy group had argued.
On the final decision day, the
environmental protection minister decided to approach the committee himself to
convince them the project should be shifted to an alternative, less
environmentally damaging location.
“Choosing an alternative, less harmful
plan will enable a rapid planning process without objectives,” Erdan told the
committee, promising that if this route is taken he will ensure no objections
complicate the new process.
“If the current plan is approved, the
Environmental Protection Ministry will undermine the decision and will activate
all means possible in order to prevent the destruction of nature and unique
When the plans were approved at the day’s end, he committed
to doing just that – vowing to take the case to the National Council for
Planning and Building.
“If tomorrow morning there is a developer who
wants to build a hotel at the Western Wall plaza because it is good for him, and
alongside this there was an alternative that doesn’t disturb the landscape or
obstruct it for the rest of the visitors, would you side with the developer then
as well?” Erdan asked the committee, according to his spokeswoman.
the committee approved the construction of the site, it did, however, order the
developer to submit updated plans that restrict his rights of construction, and
that curb the size of the hotel and facilities that accompany it, such as the
pool and leisure areas.
According to the committee, the developer must
suggest two options for the hotel within the Sasgon Valley in a built-up area
that does not exceed 2.4 hectares, which is significantly less than the original
30 hectare space he requested. The developer also must submit his revised plans
to the Environmental Protection Ministry, which will deliver its opinion at the
next committee meeting to discuss the project.
The Tourism Ministry
expressed satisfaction that the committee chose to approve the hotel, which it
said has been under “attack” since 1996, when a local master plan for the area
was first approved.
Despite a recent “phenomenon” that has led to the
cancellation of hotels slated to be built next to beaches, ministry officials
said they are confident that in this case, the developer will be able to
contribute greatly to the local residents and the regional economy, while
maintaining the natural environment.
Critical to a progressive Israel is
a “combination of tourism development with preservation of nature and the
environment,” the ministry said.
“The establishment of a tourism
development in the periphery, on an attractive location in terms of landscape,
is expected to bring an increase in tourism to the area, expand employment and
economic activity in general and diversify the Israeli tourism product,” said
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov in a statement released by his office. “In
doing so, this will address the shortage of hotel rooms in Israel and equally
important – will encourage developers to invest in the Israeli hotel
In 2008, IUED, along with local residents, had initially
petitioned plans to establish the development in Sasgon Valley. Sasgon, in
English, means variegation, a scientific term for the appearance of different
colors among plant vegetation.
Following the petition, the court ruled
the initial approval process had been flawed, and the project was returned to
the district committee for renewed destruction, which has until now prevented
the spades from hitting the ground, according to IUED.
Adhering to a
court order, Ethos environmental consulting group carried out an objective,
third-party report that examined 10 alternative options for hotel locations,
meanwhile confirming “unequivocally” that the plans at Timna would destroy land
that is “rare at a national level, an area that has not yet been breached by
human activities” and also disrupts a portion of the Israel Trail, the group
Coinciding with the thirdparty report, the Society for the
Protection of Nature (SPNI) also conducted its own report in November 2009, and
determined at least eight alternative sites that were preferable to the Sasgon
location, from an environmental standpoint.
“The committee members
ignored a professional, objective report that determined that the hotel must not
be established in Sasgon Valley, and voted contrary to public interest,” said
IUED Executive Director Amit Bracha, in a statement released jointly by his
office and SPNI. “As far as we are concerned, the struggle will begin anew in
full force, we will demand that the subject will be transferred to the National
Council, and if necessary we will also turn to legal proceedings.”
officials said they, too, would do all that they can to prevent the destruction
of Sasgon Valley, and called upon the developer himself to cancel the plans and
build at an alternative location.
“Instead of being courageous, district
committee members chose to take cowardly actions and ignore the environmental
report,” a local group, the Committee for Saving Sasgon Valley, said in the same
collective release. “It is clear that the struggle is not over, until the
bulldozers are on the ground, and we will do everything so that this does not
Leaders of another environmental group, Green Course, likewise
slammed the decision, noting that while they are in favor of development and
tourism, they prefer that the values of nature and the desires of local
residents also be considered.