Land use and planning are currently undergoing an unprecedented overhaul in
Israel. This week, under the auspices of a reform meant to shorten bureaucratic
procedures, the New Law for Planning and Building will be approved by a special
joint Knesset committee (the law will likely be presented to the Knesset for a
vote when the plenary reconvenes in May). The prior law, passed in 1965, was the
first planning law in Israeli history. The legislation of a new planning law is
a historic event that will dictate the future of Israel’s landscape and
fundamental social structure.
Unfortunately, however, planning tends to
be a closed discussion reserved for professionals. This despite the fact that
the new law will directly affect the lives of each and every one of us, by
establishing, among many other things, which areas will be developed and which
will remain open space, what kinds of housing will be constructed, and where new
infrastructure and industrial zones will be built.
One of the primary
impetuses for the reform was the burdensome bureaucracy of the existing planning
regime, under which it often took decades to complete a building project. But
rather than examining the processes and streamlining the licensing procedures,
the new law goes a giant step further, fundamentally changing the structure of
the planning system by eliminating the hierarchical structure designed to ensure
oversight, prevent corruption and facilitate the realization of public
As a result, the reform has been met with severe criticism
from across the social, industrial and political spectrum – local and regional
councils; unions and trade organizations of architects, engineers and assessors;
academics; environmental protection groups; members of Knesset; disabled
persons’ representative organizations; and social organizations from all over
Israel have opposed the reform in its current form.
Planning is one of a
government’s most influential tools for effecting social and economic policy.
The unique characteristics of land use policy – the scarcity of land, the
expense of development and the permanence of the decisions made in this arena –
require long-term strategic planning that incorporates society’s values and
goals for the future.
Without adequate protection for the common good,
development left entirely to the free market will inevitably result in the
disappearance of open space, the destruction of local ecologies, the widening of
the gap between rich and poor and the marginalization of the weakest segments of
society (the working class, minorities, disabled people, etc.). For this reason,
in the Western world planning is a progressive field in which policies are
developed to protect the public interest and balance the goals of development
and social justice.
Yet despite the dramatic social and environmental
consequences, and in disregard of the widespread criticism voiced against it by
key actors, the proposed reform bill remains regressive, lacking in proper
supervision and control mechanisms, and vulnerable to special interest groups
furthering their interests at the expense of the public.
The Knesset held
hearings that included approximately 50 rounds of discussions with dozens of
academics, local government representatives and representatives of NGOs.
Ultimately, however, it failed to implement the thousands of comments raised in
these discussions; the wording of both its structural approach and most minute
details remain almost unchanged.
The result is a reform which has no
vision or social sensitivity. Although it would be impossible to list all
of the reform’s failures and problems, examining a few of the more glaring
omissions is illustrative of just how regressive it is.
deficiencies, the reform: has no clause that defines the social goals expected
of the planning process (goals such as advancing equality, reducing disparities,
environmental protection, public participation and transparency); has no
procedures for public participation, other than the right to file objections at
the end of the planning process; has no guidelines for the relevant planning
authorities to promote social objectives (such as affordable housing,
integrating disabled persons and establishing public institutions); does not
provide for social consultants to the planning authorities who would present the
needs and social implications of proposed programs, as is customary in
progressive Western planning regimes; does not include public representatives in
the local planning committees, who would speak for the relevant communities and
represent their needs and concerns; and does not include an affordable housing
provision strong enough to facilitate the integration of populations with medium
or low incomes.
The significance of these omissions is that the planning
will be carried out without bringing into account the needs, desires and
preferences of the populations affected. Unlike elsewhere in the world, social
values and objectives such as reducing disparities and inequality will not be
advanced through the planning system. On the contrary: marginalized
populations will be excluded from the procedures and will suffer from
self-serving, and sometimes even corrupt, planning.
It is regrettable
that the government once again views planning and economics as a closed science
separate from the society it serves. The government is missing a historic
legislative opportunity with the New Law for Planning and Building – to offer a
social and environmental law, promote rights and social interests, promote
social justice, and prevent the domination of narrow interests. Instead,
we get a regressive law with profound implications and irreversible effects on
Israel’s environment that will accompany us for years.The author is an
attorney for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. This article was
originally published in shorter form in Hebrew in
The Marker on February 22,
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