Environmental groups dismayed; Erdan sole minister to object bill.
By EHUD ZION WALDOKS, DAN IZENBERG
The cabinet on Sunday gave its stamp of approval to a controversial government bill calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the 1965 Planning and Building Law, aimed at streamlining procedures.“We have devoted long days and nights to this reform and we have made progress on issues such as development, increasing the supply of apartments, maintaining the environment and reducing gaps,” said a jubilant Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was instrumental in preparing the legislation.“Now there will be clear and fully transparent criteria. We do not want to be stuck in the current situation; we want to move forward.”According to the cabinet statement, the cabinet approved “a new draft law for the reform of Israel’s complicated planning and construction procedures. The reform will shorten the wearying bureaucratic process that Israelis and contractors must currently undergo, and will constitute an internal lever for economic growth.”Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan was the sole minister to vote against the bill. Prior to the cabinet meeting, Erdan submitted a number of objections to the bill and requested certain amendments. Since the amendments were not made, Erdan voted against, his ministry said.“There’s an extreme preference in this reform for development rather than conservation,” he said in a statement.“The make-up of the planning committees according to the reform harms the balance between conserving open spaces and protecting the environment and development and building. So much so, that representatives of the Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) were excluded from all of the planning committees, while at the same time even more representatives of the ministries which promote development were included in every one of them,” Erdan angrily declared.AdvertisementAs part of his requested amendments, the minister had called for NPA representatives to be included on the district planning committees because the committee to preserve agricultural land and open spaces had been abolished.Erdan also called for the reform to be amended to prevent the Interior Ministry from adding a third representative to committees.Erdan also wanted the reform amended to condition planning permission on receiving approval from the Environmental Protection Ministry in certain potentially hazardous situations such as the creation of new factories which use hazardous materials, new oil refineries, power plants, ports and airports.In general, he had hoped to remove certain elements of the reform that placed the responsibility for deciding whether an environmental survey was needed on too local a level.Israel Union for Environmental Defense Executive Director Amit Bracha, whose organization had petitioned the High Court of Justice last week against the reform along with other environmental and civil rights groups, castigated the cabinet move.“The reform which was approved is destructive and dangerous and was constructed far from the public’s eye without public participation,” he said.“We remind the government and the prime minister that the High Court sharply criticized the process in which the reform was approved and ordered the government to accept public comments and have the National Planning and Building Council discuss them before the bill is presented for second and third readings,” Bracha said.The green groups had asked the court to order the government to allow more time to individual ministries, official planning bodies and non-government organizations to study the law and prepare comments, criticisms and objections to its provisions before allowing the Ministerial Committee on Legislation to vote on the reform.The government had allotted only 21 days for this process. The petitioners said this was not enough time to study such a complicated and vital law and asked for 90 days.During a hearing last Wednesday, the High Court made it clear it sympathized with the petitioners. However, it decided to allow the ministers to discuss the bill on condition that they were informed of the court’s feelings on the matter.To avoid a court ruling accepting the petition, the members of the ministerial committee decided on a number of measures that would allow it to receive input from organizations after the government approved the bill and even after the Knesset plenum voted on it in first reading.The first reading is scheduled for Wednesday, the last day of the Knesset’s winter session.A special professional committee which is responsible on behalf of the government for the bill will examine all the suggestions and bring those it considers valid to the ministerial committee for a vote. If a majority votes in favor of the suggested change, the government will press for the change during the deliberations in Knesset committees during the bill’s preparation for its second and final readings.Furthermore, the ministerial committee will convene again to considerthe recommendations of the National Building and Planning Council.These will not be filtered in advance by the professional committee.The petitioners opposed the compromise, saying that the members of theministerial committee should have all the comments and criticismsbefore them before they approve the bill. But the court reluctantlyaccepted the government’s proposal.
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