Promoting Sustainable Planning

Open spaces in Israel are dwindling due to the unyielding threat of development. By 2020 Israel is expected to be the most densely developed  country in the OECD. Israel is facing intense pressure to utilize its land reserves to house this increased population. If done unintelligently this would lead to the exploitation and destruction of Israel’s dwindling and precious open spaces, harming nature and erasing the landscape and heritage that links the Jewish people to their biblical homeland.

Israel’s land use policy is set out in National Master Plan (known by its Hebrew acronym TAMA) 35, the country’s first and primary spatial planning policy document. Commissioned in 1996 and approved in 2005, TAMA 35 designates six different types of land-use and how these areas are to be developed over the early decades of the 21st century. Tama 35 aims to maintain a balance between Israel's development needs and the wish to preserve open spaces and the environment while taking future generations into consideration and to combat the erosion of the distinction between built up and open areas, caused by unplanned urban sprawl.

Safeguarding TAMA 35

In 2015 the Interior Ministry tried to break some of TAMA’s underlying assumptions apart, in particular attempting to redesignate 160,000 hectares (or 8%) of Israel’s open spaces to become residential land to try and alleviate the housing crisis. SPNI, with our professional planners and influence, was on the forefront of the campaign against this – and won, proving that TAMA 35 allocates enough land for housing; just the government has to approve plans for these areas.  This victory clearly demonstrates the necessity of professional planners in the struggle to protect Israel’s landscapes and nature. Arguably the planning sphere is the most important battlefield to protect Israel’s nature. With the largest and most experienced planning team in Israel, SPNI’s role is vital.  

Why Land Use Planning is Important

Land use planning refers to the process by which land is allocated between competing and sometimes conflicting uses in order to secure the rational and orderly development of land in an environmentally sound manner to ensure the creation of sustainable human settlements. This must be supported by relevant research and mapping which are also major components of the land use planning process. Land-use planning is an integral part of the process of national growth and development. SPNI is the only environmental NGO who maintains the staff and expertise at the national, regional and local level to be a professional part of this process.

Our professional planners are among the few in Israel with the resources to conduct multi-disciplinary research, study the issues in depth, make analyses, issue recommendations and promote these among politicians, decision makers and the public. With a respected reputation developed over decades our opinions are listened to, even by those who aren’t predisposed to agree with us.

Mapping the Land of Israel

Former SPNI CEO Yoav Sagi set up the Open Landscape Institute within SPNI to conduct a detailed research and mapping of Israel’s land use and its intrinsic values. This type of in-depth study has never been carried out before. Its findings will contribute greatly to Israel’s future planning sphere. Click here for more information about the Open Landscape Institute and its work.

Israel’s Planning System

Israel’s planning system is relatively centralized although regional and local councils have some power. SPNI is the only environmental NGO with dedicated regional planners who are intimate with the issues, players and politics and can successfully sway the regional planning councils with sometimes stunning results. For example in 2014 with the campaign to save the Valley of Elah which, in spite of last minute pressure from the Prime Minister’s office, (as well as other influential figures) ended with an almost unanimous vote against the plan to allow a highly experimental, never successfully tried, and frankly dangerous fracking-like extraction process to go ahead in the Judean lowlands.

Local Planning

SPNI’s five Community Branches, in Israel’s major cities, all have a professional planner on the team. They work to promote the sustainable development and growth of Israel’s major cities, working closely with the municipalities and their planners to provide data and recommendations to make this happen. One example of this is our urban nature surveys, which map out in detailed resolution the natural values of each dunam in and around the city. Without SPNI this data would not exist and the impact on urban nature would not be taken into account when building plans are approved.

The preservation of rural open spaces can only happen if Israel’s cities become more densely populated, with an ongoing process of urban renewal rather than suburban sprawl. SPNI’s urban planners work together with the municipality to create plans to make Israel’s cities better places to live by preserving key open spaces, promoting more efficient public transport and ensuring the public’s concerns are heard by decision makers.  

Representing the People

Since 2013 we’ve seen a worrying trend by government ministers and ministries attempting to reform planning laws to prevent the public (including NGO’s) from having a voice in the planning system. If successful the planning system will become dictatorial and monopolistic and at the whims of any politician. SPNI has consistently, with some success, fought against these initiatives, including being a founding member and leader of the Forum for Democratic Planning, and ensuring the planning process is open to debate and that the public has the ability to make its voice heard when new plans are put forward.