In a move that will preserve vast tracts of open space for public recreation, the National Council for Planning and Building rejected a proposal on Tuesday to expand areas slated for development under National Master Plan 35.
TAMA-35, which the cabinet approved in 2005, designated portions of land for future residential development, with an aim of simultaneously preserving the continuity of open spaces in the country. The amendment the National Council rejected on Tuesday would have allowed for the expansion of up to 2 percent of already designated development areas.
Environmentalists vehemently opposed the amendment, saying that doing so would come at the expense of prized open spaces.
“The decision today is great tidings for the citizens of Israel, who will finally enjoy both an expansive supply of housing units at a fair price and green spaces,” Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said. “This achievement joins the great achievement that we obtained in the struggle against oil shale and for the future of the Ela Valley and shows how environmental justice is inextricably tied to social justice.”
Peretz was referring to another National Council for Planning and Building decision last week, during which the panel nixed a pilot project for developing oil reserves in the south-central Shfela region.
The TAMA-35 national master plan places an emphasis on the development of existing urban environments while curbing sprawl, giving priority to the development of the Negev, the Galilee and Jerusalem, according to the Interior Ministry.
TAMA-35 divides the country into five texture typologies: urban, rural, mixed preserved, national preserved and coastal textures – aiming to direct most development to the “urban texture” category, which accounts for about 9% of the country’s land, ministry documents say.
Before Tuesday afternoon’s vote on the amendment to TAMA-35, the National Council for Planning and Building, led by Interior Ministry director- general Shuki Amrani, held an open discussion with the participation of representatives from a number of environmental organizations, such as the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Adam Teva V’Din, the Environmental Protection Ministry, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Also active in the discussion were Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich and Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav.
Ahead of the meeting, the Environmental Protection Ministry declared on Monday night that “the data of the [Interior Ministry] Planning Administration is designed to distort damage to open areas.” The ministry claimed the data are not based on adequate facts.
For example, ministry officials argued that the Planning Administration claims there are between 150,000 and 250,000 approved housing units that have not yet been built. However, Environment Ministry examinations show that this assessment does not include housing units approved before the year 2000, the ministry said. In the Central and Haifa districts alone, there are about 150,000 units approved but not yet built, the ministry added.
“Instead of determining a percentage on paper, we need to examine each case individually and opt for construction within cities, which will save money for tenants as well as for local authorities, and will enable Israeli citizens to enjoy the few open spaces that remain for us,” Peretz said.
SPNI said, meanwhile, that boosting the lands designated for TAMA-35 development by 2% would involve claiming some 4,000 hectares of open space now used for public recreation.
“There are hundreds of thousands of approved housing units, just waiting to be built,” SPNI said in a statement before the vote. “We must work for their immediate realization and not continue initiating more and more plans, which will contribute nothing toward the housing shortage, which will not add even one more housing unit and will only hurt the quality of life and welfare of citizens in their recreational areas, in open spaces and in Israeli nature.”
Saying that the planned amendment “hurts national interests,” Danilovich added that it is impossible to discuss homes without addressing issues for the South such as education, employment, infrastructure and bridging social gaps.
“We need to come with a much more expansive plan, and not build one big metropolis, in our time, in the Negev – there is no more room here,” the Beersheba mayor said. “If you vote for this, it will severely damage the Negev, will deepen social gaps and create, in fact, two nations.”
The Israel Planners Association also expressed its opposition to the amendment, in a letter to director-general Amrani before to the discussion.
The proposed expansion of 2% in urban areas would add nearly 4,000 hectares of land for housing construction, of which about 60% would be located in the Central, Tel Aviv and Southern districts of the country, the association wrote. In some cases, the establishment of suburban neighborhoods on the edges of urban areas could create a situation in which residents lacked proper municipal services and had poor access to centers of employment, culture and other activities, the planners argued.
“These steps are likely in our opinion to hurt some of the principles that underlie national and municipal planning and the purposes that it is supposed to serve,” their letter said.
Representatives of Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union of Environmental Defense), who have also been active in the fight against the TAMA-35 extension, praise the National Council’s decision.
The preferred option is instead to raise the quality of life within cities, the organization argued.
“This is another huge public achievement within a week whose significances are far-reaching,” Adam Teva V’Din executive director Amit Bracha said. “The danger to the green spaces in the Jerusalem Hills, to Hof Hasharon open spaces and to open spaces around the country has been eliminated.
The public interest won, thanks to the determined struggle and the important coalition among green organizations and the local government.”