'NIS 500 mil. for building reform'

Changes meant to ease development and reduce housing costs.

Eli Yishai 311 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Eli Yishai 311 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced on Thursday the launch of the government’s newest reform. After successfully passing the Israel Lands Administration reform in August, the government is now promoting a reform in Israel’s planning and building mechanisms which it says will ease development and reduce housing costs, but which critics claim will politicize the process and abdicate public interest to real estate sharks.
The bill that Yishai released yesterday, including its explanatory notes, is nearly 350 pages long. Those ambitious enough to read it will perceive a comprehensive upheaval of Israel’s planning, licensing and building mechanism and the processes individuals or corporations will have to go through to build or alter a physical structure.
The reform is the brainchild of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Yishai. Its foundations were established in the government’s basic guidelines and ratified by the cabinet. The estimated cost to the state of the reform is half a billion shekels.
The proposed law is meant to replace the excising Planning and Construction Law from 1965, which has undergone continuous alterations over the years in an effort to streamline processes, cut short waiting times and remove excesses and redundancies.
In the past, Netanyahu has spoken repeatedly of Israel’s cumbersome bureaucracy, often using as an example the hardships citizens deal with when applying to close off a balcony. He also often states that Israel is like a third world country when it comes to planning and permitting procedures, claiming Israel is in 120th place in the world in terms of the time it takes to issue a building permit.
The reform provides for separate processes for individuals and for entrepreneurs. The split is aimed at providing better and faster service to private citizens, whose requirements are usually smaller and simpler than those of businesses. Each permit request was allotted maximum processing periods, generally between two weeks and three months.
Israel currently has three levels of planning authorities: local, provincial and national. The reform aims to substantially strengthen the local planning committees at the expense of the provincial committees. The bill proposes that the local committees, which are manned by members of the local councils, approve detailed plans and issue building permits, a role largely filled by the provincial committees under the existing arrangement.
With the new distribution of authorities, the provincial committees will only approve provincial master plans and those plans which the local committees are unable to, and the national planning committee will approve national master plans and plans that have to do with national infrastructure and special needs.
The new authorities placed in the hands of the local planning committees require additional personnel and the reform introduces new members. The committees will be augmented by professionals and public officials.
Another aspect of the proposed reform is the introduction of advanced computerized systems into the local level. In the future, the bill states, plans will be filed for permits over the Internet and the applicants will be able to track the application’s progress electronically.
“The new bill that was published today, and the reform in general, will speed up economic procedures, reduce housing costs and create jobs for a wide range of professionals, from academics in the planning and computer sectors to people in the construction sector,” said Yishai.
“I call on the government and the Knesset to adopt it in full, so it will present new tidings to the country as it enters the new decade.”
Not everybody was quick to embrace the “new tidings,” however. A coalition of environmental, human rights and civil rights organizations was quick to issue a press release condemning the bill, claiming it will lead to the severe politicization of Israel’s planning mechanisms.
“Far from the public eye, Netanyahu contrived a destructive plan that prioritizes the interests of real estate sharks over the public good. The bill proves that as opposed to the declarations of transparency and concern for the citizens, the public will helplessly witness the disappearance of open spaces in favor of unnecessary roads and real estate complexes.
“Sustainable housing will be pushed aside in favor of luxury towers for the rich, while the individual’s ability to influence is run over by narrow economic interests,” said Attorney Amit Bracha, director general of Adam Teva V’Din.
The critics identified three major trends in the bill: the politicization of the National Planning Committee, the weakening of provincial committees and the politicization of the local planning committees. They objected to the staffing of committees by minister-appointed members at the expense of local representatives and the extensive authority granted to special national sub-committees.
“The bill allows for the promotion of construction plans that servepolitical interests, without being discussed in a procedural mannerwith the public able to respond. What this means is that at any givenmoment the government will be able to decide on the establishing of anew neighborhood or village, without the residents or other agenciesbeing able to oppose them,” said Iris Han from the Open LandscapeInstitute.
“The meaning of the decision is that a rulinggovernment, with its political agenda and short term coalitionobligations, will dictate to the professional planning mechanisms whatthe country will look like in twenty and thirty years. It is nothingless than an upheaval, turning the professional planning methods overto the political agenda of the government,” said Eli Sulam, thedirector-general of the Movement of Quality Government in Israel.