The government’s much-touted Building and Planning Reform Bill reached the Knesset for the first time Tuesday, but even the bill’s drafters admitted that the legislation was likely to undergo changes during coming Knesset hearings.
“We will not view the government’s version of the building and planning reform as a rubber-stamp item,” said MK David Azoulai (Shas), who chairs the joint committee, comprising members of the Interior and Economic Affairs committees, that was tasked with the bill’s legislation.
The Prime Minister’s Office appeared in force at the televised afternoon committee meeting, with its director-general Eyal Gabai speaking first among government ministry representatives who were there to voice their support for the bill.
Gabai emphasized the benefits of the bill for individuals, claiming it would streamline and modernize the paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles necessary to get approval for building projects. The current system, Gabai complained, required citizens to go back and forth time and again to ensure that the correct committees received the necessary paperwork for each stage of building.
He also claimed that Israel’s antiquated building and planning mechanisms had “caused the expensive and damaging housing costs in Israel.”
“The reform will streamline the system and make it transparent, socially involved and publicly overseen,” said Gabbai.
Although he acknowledged that there would “be changes to the law” in the course of the Knesset hearings on the bill, he asserted that “in the end, we all know that the principles of the reform are necessary for Israel and will only do good things for the country.”
One of the bill’s most vocal opponents among MKs, Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), requested that legislation of the bill be put on hold until the conclusion of the police probe into the Holyland affair.
One of the major concerns that has arisen from the allegations regarding the Jerusalem project is the ease with which planning bodies were allegedly bribed. The reform bill’s opponents have argued that the information released on the Holyland scandal prove that there needs to be increased oversight of planning and development. The current legislation, they claim, actually loosens some of the restrictions on building.
“The Holyland scandal will be tiny compared to the effects if the bill is accepted in its current form,” complained Sheetrit.
MK Carmel Shama (Likud), one of the coalition’s point-men on the bill,
said during the hearing that “at first glance, this reform will not be
beloved of greens or of contractors. It will have to be a combination
and balance of opposing interests. The aspiration is that in the longer
term, it will serve everyone and be an ‘antibiotic’ against corruption.”
Shama declared that “in the struggle against building and planning,
there must be an element of deterrence and real-time oversight, and
thus in the framework of the reform, we must establish a special
subcommittee to reduce corruption in planning boards, city engineers’
offices and the Israel Lands Authority.”
He lamented that “unfortunately, the law enforcement system gave up a long time ago against land-use criminals.”
Shama added that he planned to discuss his proposal with Netanyahu in the coming days.