Construction committee chairman enters the fray

David Azoulay rebuffs Netanyahu’s ‘derogatory’ remarks, promises protest action.

Housing 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Housing 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The chairman of the Knesset’s construction committee slammed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for what he called “derogatory remarks” directed against the committee and its members, as Netanyahu’s housing reform proposal received mixed reactions.
David Azoulay (Shas), who chairs the Joint Internal-Economic Committee for the Planning and Construction Law – 2010, referred to comments made by Netanyahu at a meeting of the Likud faction, where he said the prime minister had criticized the pace at which the committee was operating.
“Whoever looked for hasty deliberations on the planning and construction law was mistaken,” Azoulay said at a press conference.
“They say that we are delaying the discussions,” he said.
“They forget that on the previous version of the law from 1965 they worked seven years. The Knesset is not a market stall to be passed from hand to hand. We will not deal with this issue casually. The reform in planning and building is supposed to determine our future for the next few decades.”
To protest against the criticism directed at it, the committee would not convene next week, Azoulay said.
His press conference followed Netanyahu’s announcement on Monday of planned housing reforms that are intended to expedite the construction of thousands of housing units to deal with the nationwide shortage of about 100,000 apartments.
Under the proposal, which Netanyahu plans to submit to the cabinet on Sunday, national housing commissions will be established for a period of 18 months to bypass the bureaucracy of local and regional planning and building commissions.
The proposal won reserved support on Tuesday from some sections of the construction industry, including Contractors Association director- general Motti Kidur, who told Army Radio his organization has been calling for months for the return of the housing commissions. Kidur said the commissions had proven to be efficient when they last operated during the 1990s to meet construction demand that followed the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
“We hope that these aren’t just declarations, but that we will also see action,” he said.
“It must be ensured that more professional laborers [will be brought to the construction industry]. The State of Israel is thousands of workers short, and without them this important national mission will not be met.”
Ofer Toister, a Bnei Brak attorney specializing in construction issues, welcomed Netanyahu’s initiative but said it would only work if it improved the planning system and not if it led to legislation that would be difficult to implement.
“This might be proof that the prime minister has begun to realize that the solution is not in new legislation that will cause dramatic change,” he said, “but rather in an urgent improvement in the planning process and increased efficiency through allocation of the resources and man power required by the prioritization of these lands.”
The proposal was criticized by environmental groups, including the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which said it would hurt the environment and wouldn’t solve the housing shortage.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu insists on establishing another destructive committee, instead of looking at what is right under his nose: the execution of around 200,000 already approved housing units, according to government reports,” the society said in a press release. “[We are] of the opinion that this is the most fitting and correct solution to the housing problem, which hasn’t been carried out until now because of government oversights.
“Each populist and unnecessary procedure that bypasses planning will cause irreversible damage, as we have seen in the past, and will not solve the housing problem in Israel.”
Yavne Mayor Zvi Gov-Ari said local authorities were not the issue, and the problem now rested completely in the prime minister’s court. The bureaucratic procedures delaying construction had been caused by two different sources: the Interior Ministry committees and the Israel Lands Authority’s procedures for approving landowners’ plans,” he said.
“If the prime minister’s proposal would decrease government interference via its committees and allow the local construction planning councils to check and approve the plans,” Gov-Ari said, “it would be possible to say that every plan presented through the relevant municipal construction program could be approved within a month.”