Carlton hotel in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: CARLTON TEL AVIV)
A plan to construct 27,000 hotel rooms in the next 20 years has drawn the ire of Knesset members and environmental groups concerned about a “dramatic increase” in development along the nation’s coasts.
On Monday, the Knesset’s Interior Committee approved the second and third reading of the National Master Plan.
Called Tama 35, the plan is meant to guide the country’s spatial development for the next two decades, balancing development needs with the preservation of open spaces.
Tama 35 includes the “Levin Law,” spearheaded by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, which aims to simplify the approval of hotel building permits in order to lower hotel prices.
The bill gives hotels “national infrastructure” status. The designation transfers approval for hotel projects to the Finance Ministry’s National Planning and Building Committee.
Currently the permits need approval from Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
Furthermore, new hotels will be permitted to sell 20 percent of their rooms for residential housing, subject to approval by “local, independent councils.”
Though the Levin Law does not specify beachfront construction, environmental groups are alarmed that Israel’s Mediterranean coastline could become a vast construction site with limited public access.
In a statement, the Tourism Ministry emphasized the plan “preserves the authority of the planning institutions to prevent uncontrolled construction along the beaches.”
When the plan was approved by the Finance Ministry’s National Planning and Building Committee on April 6, the Finance Ministry promised that the plan would keep “construction 100 meters away from the water, protect free public access for the length of the beach, preserve archeological and nature sites, and expand the possibilities for social activities like sports and recreation.”
According to a statement from the Tourism Ministry, the law will permit 15,000 hotel rooms to be built in the next five years, and a further 12,000 within a decade.
With 27,000 more hotel rooms and a streamlined construction approval process, the ministry hopes to slash accommodation costs.
“The plan’s efficiency will lead to a dramatic increase in the number of hotel rooms and a significant addition to the amount of housing units, and eventually a decrease in prices by 20 percent,” the ministry said.
Israel’s stagnating tourism sector struggles to compete with lower prices in other eastern Mediterranean destinations, including Turkey, Cyprus and Greece.
In the past decade, the ministry reported that only 3,000 hotel rooms were built across the country, increasing supply by six percent. This lack of construction led to a 70% increase in hotel prices between 2004 and 2015.
Some Knesset members and environmental activists were outraged by the Levin Law’s approval. Among those opposed was Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran, who lambasted the plan for attempting to “bypass coastal environmental protection laws in the guise of advancing the country’s hotel industry.”
“Approval for 20% of the hotel to be for private units is, in actuality, complete approval for homes for the wealthy,” she said. Cohen- Paran doubted that the committee responsible for protecting Israel’s beaches would ever oppose items approved by the new law.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel lamented that “Israel’s beaches are being sold to the highest bidder.”
“Once again, the Knesset has failed to protect one of the properties most important to the Israeli public,” SPNI spokesman Dov Greenblatt wrote.
Tourism Minister Levin insisted the law is win-win for tourists and Israelis.
“The law preserves the authority of the planning institutions to prevent uncontrolled construction along the beaches. This represents an immediate transformation in the hotel industry, will generate construction of thousands of hotel rooms with an emphasis on budget hotels and will finally lower the costs of vacationing in Israel. Israel’s citizens deserve the right to take a vacation at reasonable costs. In addition, Israel’s ability to compete in the global tourism industry will increase dramatically and this will attract hundreds of thousands of additional tourists every year, which will in turn make a significant contribution to the economy and to the workforce. The policy of the Israel Tourism Ministry is clear – we will not allow hotels to be built that damage the shoreline, as was the case until now. The program has one objective – to reduce vacation costs once and for all.”