Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel announced his intention to freeze plans for a new neighborhood on the Ramon Crater cliff, in a meeting with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel on Sunday.
SPNI has in recent years fought alongside the city’s residents against the project, claiming that Mitzpe Ramon has sufficient space for construction elsewhere and that there is no need to establish the Gamal neighborhood on the rim of a crater with environmental and touristic importance.
Ariel toured the site on Thursday and then sat down with SPNI officials on Sunday, according to his spokesman.
“Together with the need to provide housing solutions all over the country, we must not ignore damage to important and beloved values of nature,” Ariel said on Monday.
“The Gamal neighborhood threatens to hurt one of the most beautiful places in Israel, and I therefore ordered the freeze of any additional marketing planned for the location. I intend to work together with the mayor to find housing solutions in a place without harming nature and tourist sites.”
The fight against intentions to build a neighborhood on the crater’s rim began already in the 1990s, after the government approved plans following waves of immigration to Israel, information from SPNI explained. After years of stalemate on the issue, the Housing Ministry decided in 2008 to build the residential neighborhood near the edge of the cliff that overlooks the crater.
In March 2010, the state comptroller issued an opinion that building the neighborhood at the cliff’s edge could destroy unique landscape, and residents of Mitzpe Ramon appealed to the head of the Israel Lands Authority in October of that year. The Environment Ministry’s National Parks, Nature Reserves and National Sites Council recommended rejecting the plans in June 2011, yet the Sub-Committee for Major Planning Subjects approved the program in November of that year.
By June 2013, the Housing Ministry entrusted the Southern District Committee for Planning and Building with overseeing the construction of the neighborhood, and in September, SPNI filed its objections to the plan.
SPNI welcomed Ariel’s decision and stressed that “efforts should now be directed to finding a more suitable construction area in another portion of the city, without causing undue harm to nature and to a particularly unique and valuable landscape.