No more ‘Not in my backyard’ stances for local municipalities

Today, the authority to license business operations lies with municipal authorities

Greennet waste facility (photo credit: Courtesy)
Greennet waste facility
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Prime Minister’s Office has declared war on municipalities that employ Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) policies and withhold operating licenses for critical infrastructure projects.
The Interior, Justice and Finance ministries reached an agreement on Wednesday to amend the Business Licensing Law, which will allow the government to override municipalities when it comes to licensing for power plants, waste management facilities and water treatment centers, among other facilities.
“We are noticing the principle of NIMBY becoming more and more present and common in day to day life in Israel,” said an official from the Prime Minister’s Office – who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You can’t run a country like this.”
The next step is for a draft of the amendment to be presented to the Knesset for a vote, which may happen during the current winter legislative session. Yet some officials voiced skepticism about the legislation’s chances.
“There is hardly any chance that this decision will become binding law,” said one official from the Economy Ministry. “Because taking authority from the local planning committees and moving it, it’s politically very hard.”
Today, the authority to license business operations lies with municipal authorities. While national ministries are responsible for granting building permits – having taken away that right from the municipalities in 2002 – licensing remains a local prerogative.
The amendment would allow the national authorities to convene a special committee – subject to judicial oversight and public review – if a municipality sought to unfairly hamper critical infrastructure projects. The process would likely take several months and include professional evaluations from multiple ministries – including environmental affairs – to recommend whether to override the municipality or uphold its control.
Under the proposal, the government would only be able to act after holding a vote in the cabinet.
“Once you have a decision made on the national level – at the national committee for planning and development – we can’t accept the fact that nationally authorized bodies take a decision on these things, and then just because of NIMBY, a municipality can veto it,” said the official in the Prime Minister’s Office. Ministerial committees undertake a comprehensive review before determining an infrastructure location, the official said, and they sometimes may consider up to 20 alternatives before finalizing the site.
Already when it comes to security and defense installations, licenses are approved by the Defense Ministry and not the municipality. “You may not want an explosive factory next to your municipality but nobody wants it. It has to go somewhere,” said the official.
Earlier this year, a high-profile standoff with the mayors of Haifa and Ashdod forced the Prime Minister’s Office to rethink the current licensing framework.
The Haifa Municipality had sought to shutter a huge ammonia storage tank that could be an inviting target for Hezbollah in the next war. The proposed solution would involve storing the ammonia in offshore ISO storage tanks. But Haifa Port could not accommodate all the ISO tanks – meaning Ashdod was considered for the role.
Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri soon declared that if his city were to accept the ammonia ISO tanks, he would revoke the operational licensing for Ashdod Port, shuttering the harbor. And Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav kept second-guessing the government’s decisions.
And with developing the Leviathan gas field 130 km. west of Haifa, several coastal municipalities objected to the placement of rigs or pipelines, squabbling among themselves to prevent their installation.