The integration of environmental considerations in land-use planning decisions has been a major focus of environmental policy in Israel since the early 1970s. From the start, environmental policy was oriented toward prevention rather than treatment. Environmental evaluation and assessment were introduced into planning at the national, regional and local levels and a system of environmental impact statements was established for checking the environmental impacts of specific detailed plans and proposals. Consequently, Israel has successfully implemented policies for sustainable development within the planning process.

The Land-Use Planning System in Israel

The Planning and Building Law, 1965, serves as a foundation for environmental protection in Israel. It is a comprehensive statute with enabling regulations that monitors and regulates all building and land-use designation in Israel, from power stations on a national level, to residential renovation on a local level. The law vests development rights in the State. Any landowner or developer, public or private, must apply to the relevant planning authority for a building permit, and no building or land-use may be permitted which is not in accordance with a statutorily approved plan. The law establishes a hierarchy of plans and planning authorities at national, regional and local levels, responsible for land-use zoning and environmental management.

– The National Level

At the top level of national planning is the National Planning and Building Board (the National Board), chaired by the director-general of the Ministry of the Interior, and composed of representatives of national government (including the Ministry of the Environment), local government, and public and professional organizations (including the Nature Reserves Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). The Board advises the government on general policy in implementing the law, including matters of legislation and enforcement; it is therefore responsible for environmental policy matters as they relate to planning and building.

The national level of the hierarchy also includes two additional statutory committees: the Agricultural Lands Committee, responsible for protecting lands of agricultural value and minimizing the loss of agricultural land to building, and the Territorial Waters Committee (in which the Ministry of the Environment is a member), responsible for approval of offshore structures and for coastal management.

One of the primary responsibilities of the National Planning and Building Board is to enact national outline schemes sectorial masterplans which lay down the planning structure for the entire area of the country. Initially, the outline schemes are commissioned by the National Board; upon completion they are submitted to the government for approval. Once approved and announced in the official gazette, they have the status of legally binding plans. Environmental aspects are integrated into all relevant national schemes; in some cases they are the dominant considerations.

National outline schemes fall into six different categories:

1. infrastructure plans which are of national significance, such as plans for power stations, ports and airports;

2. infrastructure plans which are to be integrated within the framework of a national network, such as plans for roads, railways, and transmission lines;

3. plans which define criteria and designate sites for the provision of essential goods and services, such as plans for quarries and building materials, waste disposal sites, water catchment basins and aquifer recharge areas, cemeteries, and prisons;

4. plans which set standards and guidelines which are then to be interpreted into sites in regional and local plans, such as plans for population distribution, public institutions, tourism and recreation, and gas stations;

5. plans which protect specific resources considered to be of high value as part of the national natural and cultural heritage, such as plans for nature reserves and national parks, natural and manmade forests, and memorial and historic sites;

6. plans for particularly sensitive or problematic areas warranting special attention by the National Board, such as plans for the Mediterranean coastal area, Sea of Galilee shores, the Gulf of Eilat and Haifa Bay.

The most recently prepared masterplan – a scheme for immigrant absorption – is noteworthy for its integration of substantial environmental management and resource protection measures. It sets a precedent for future plans by ensuring that the environmental implications of planning proposals will be considered as an integral part of the planning process.

National Outline Scheme for Immigrant Absorption: Recognition of the need to coordinate planning efforts by all sectors of government in order to absorb the hundreds of thousands of immigrants currently pouring into Israel led the National Planning and Building Board to commission a National Outline Scheme for Immigrant Absorption. The plan, recently approved and presented for approval, is based on a forecast of one million new immigrants by 1995. Environmental constraints constitute the backbone of the scheme.

In the first phase of plan preparation, a map of environmental constraints and restrictions was prepared. It included areas in which building should not be permitted, namely areas of high natural and landscape value designated for protection, and areas exposed to environmental deterioration such as noise, air pollution or risks from hazardous materials. The plan also designated areas where development would be permitted provided measures are taken to prevent environmental degradation, such as areas of high sensitivity to water pollution.

In the second phase, the planners checked the requirements for residential development and employment opportunities. They concluded that most of the development in the initial years must be directed to the central region where employment opportunities are available, and only later would the emphasis shift to development in peripheral areas, mostly Be’er Sheva and the southern region.

The principles outlined in the third phase, and the planning documents submitted at the fourth and final phase gave strong emphasis to environmental management principles, including:

* development should be confined to existing urban settlements, using existing infrastructures;

* rural development should be limited to minor expansion of existing settlements, within an overall policy of open space protection of rural agricultural landscapes;

* high quality areas of natural and landscape value should be strictly protected;

* development should not be permitted in areas exposed to environmental degradation;

* development must be accompanied by the adequate provision of facilities for sewage treatment;

* development of industrial parks must include regulations to prevent environmental pollution.

The National Outline Scheme for Immigrant Absorption is accompanied by a non-statutory development plan designed to help guide the investment decisions of the various sectorial ministries. It includes requirements for sewage treatment facilities and for solid waste disposal sites.

Other examples of national outline schemes in which environmental considerations have played a major role are:

National Outline Scheme for Power Stations: This scheme deals with the location and operation of power stations for electricity production and supply throughout the country. Environmental considerations are incorporated in the plan’s regulations on siting, construction and operation of the power plants. Considerations incorporated in the siting process include, among others: carrying capacity of the coastal airshed and the ability of the atmosphere to disperse pollutants emitted from oil and coal-burning plants; impact on the coast of the water settlement basin for the intake of seawater for cooling; impact on the coast of the facilities needed for the intake of oil or coal supply; ecological and hydrological impact of proposed water pump storage projects; landscape, air pollution and noise impact of gas turbines.

Regulations on the operation of power plants specify the ongoing measures necessary to ensure that environmental impacts will be minimal. Such measures include: establishment of air pollution monitoring stations around the power plant; setting threshold levels for concentrations of pollutants and establishing the measures to be taken if exceeded; establishing the authorities responsible for inspection; monitoring the impact of the station and of the construction of the settling basin on the sea and coastline and establishing the measures to be taken if damage occurs.

The plan for the Hadera coal-fired power station included the first statutory example of "environmental compensation." It linked the construction of the plant to establishment of a park for Hadera residents as compensation for the siting of the power station adjacent to the town. This principle was followed with the next power station site at Ashkelon, where the town was compensated by funds for a marina project, to ensure that its tourist industry would not be damaged by the construction of the power station.

National Outline Scheme for Airports: All plans for airports, including the Ben Gurion International Airport, include measures for noise abatement. Flight paths are determined not only by aircraft and safety requirements but also by alignments designed to reduce the number of residential units exposed to high noise levels. In a hot climate, acoustic treatment requiring double glazing is not appropriate, so every effort is made to reduce dwellings exposed to aircraft noise by choosing flight paths, regulating aircraft movements and preventing disturbance by night flights.

The national plan for airports includes not only regulations on the construction and operation of the airport but also imposes restrictions on building in areas exposed to high noise levels. Wherever possible, no residential or noise-sensitive uses are permitted in areas exposed to a noise level above 65 LDN. Acoustic measures are required on new dwellings in areas exposed to noise levels just below 65 LDN.

The plan includes ongoing monitoring and enforcement procedures and establishes the authorities responsible for implementation.

National Outline Scheme for the Mediterranean Coast: In 1970, the National Planning and Building Board recognized that Israel’s coastlines should be treated as resources of national value, and issued an order for the preparation of national plans for all its sea and lake shores: the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea (Gulf of Eilat), the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.

The first stage of the National Outline Scheme for the Mediterranean Coast was approved in 1983. The main objectives of the plan were to prevent development which had no connection to the coast, to protect large sections of the coastline as nature reserves, national parks and coastal reserves, and to allocate coastal areas for tourism and recreation activities. The masterplan included a highly effective clause prohibiting development within 100 meters of the coastline. Relaxation of this regulation is occasionally permitted only if approved by the National Board.

To help provide a comprehensive long-term guide to planning policy, beyond the general guidelines in the approved masterplan, the National Board commissioned a more detailed document for the resource management of the Mediterranean coastline for tourist and recreation activities. This resource management plan, prepared by the Ministry of the Environment, was recently submitted for approval to the National Board.

The plan is based on principles of suitability and sensitivity of coastal resources. The dominant principle adopted for resource management of the coast was the definition of intensity of development. A natural undeveloped bathing beach offers a totally different experience from an urban beach with multiple visitor facilities. Similarly, overnight accommodation at a village camping site is a different experience from accommodation at a central urban hotel. Five levels of development were therefore defined for beaches and their immediate hinterland, four levels of intensity of accommodation, and three levels of development of hinterland day-visitor areas.

Each site designated for tourist and recreation use was allocated a level of intensity of development, initially proposed by the planners on the basis of surveys, geological and ecological guidelines, and local site conditions. Alternative proposals were checked to determine whether the level of development proposed would damage sensitive resources on or near the site. Where a conflict was identified, the level of intensity was reduced, the boundaries of the development area changed, or the site cancelled and an alternative selected.

The overall national policies proposed for resource management of the coast include:

* Development which is not for recreation or tourism should not be permitted along the coast and its immediate hinterland;

* Policies for resource protection should range from absolute protection within a designated reserve to the identification of sensitive resources to be considered within the detailed plan for site development;

* Highly intensive uses should be confined to existing urban centers;

* Offshore construction for recreation and water sport activities should be restricted to urban centers;

* A public footpath should be designated along the coastline to ensure public access by foot to and along the coastline.

– The District and Local Levels

The regional level of the planning hierarchy is the responsibility of six District Planning and Building Commissions. The Commissions are composed of regional representatives of government ministries, including representatives of the Minister of the Environment, and representatives of local authorities within the district. The chairpersons are the district commissioners of the regional offices of the Ministry of the Interior.

District Commissions serve as links between national planning and local implementation. All national outline schemes must be referred to the regional level for comment, and any proposal at the local level which does not conform to an approved plan must be passed from the Local to the District Commission for approval. The six districts have comprehensive regional plans (district outline schemes) either approved or in preparation. The objectives of these schemes are to determine the details necessary for the implementation of the national outline scheme in each district, and to identify any matter of general importance to the district (e.g. waste disposal sites, open spaces designated for protection).

Represenatives of the Minister of the Environment permanently participate in all sessions of the District Commissions and at times in sessions of the sub-committees as well. These representatives present environmental opinions to the committees, discuss objections on environmental grounds during the approval process for plans, identify plans and projects which require the preparation of environmental impact statements, and follow-up on the fulfillment of instructions incorporated into the regulations of the plan. Their work enables the integration of environmental considerations into the everyday decisions of the District Commissions.

The Local Commissions prepare detailed outline schemes for their areas, showing planned land-use allocation, and submit them for approval to the District Commissions. The objectives of the local schemes are to control development of land in the local area in order to ensure appropriate levels of health, safety, security and convenience, to abate nuisances, to protect historical buildings, and to enhance natural resources. In carrying out these goals, the Local Commission may enact specific regulations regarding the conditions for use of land and buildings in the local area (e.g., building density, setbacks, roads, etc.).

The law ensures adherence to the schemes through licensing. No work related to roads or buildings that is externally visible can be initiated without a building permit. The Local Commissions are responsible for decisions on applications for development, for issuing building permits, and for taking action against illegal building.

The preparation, alteration or approval of a scheme require a notice in the official gazette, and notification of the public in the neighborhoods affected through local newspapers. Along with provisions for public notice, the law delineates procedures for hearing public objections to schemes, and includes provisions for appeal.

Most of the ongoing day to day integration of environmental considerations in the planning process is achieved by the participation of environmental planners at the national and district level planning authorities, and increasingly at the local level too. In large measure, due to their advice, outline schemes at the national, district and local levels now incorporate resource evaluation, technologically feasible alternatives and impact analysis.

Environmental Impact Statements (EISs)

One of the most important tools in the land-use planning process is the EIS. EISs have been used in Israel from the mid-1970s; regulations governing the requirements of EISs were promulgated under the authority of the Planning and Building Law in 1982.

Under these regulations, an EIS is defined as "a document reviewing the connection between a proposed plan and the environment in which it is to be implemented, including estimates of the expected or foreseen effects of the plan on this environment, and an itemized list of the measures needed to prevent detrimental effects."

The regulations specify in which cases an EIS is mandatory and in which cases it is optional, upon request by the planning agencies. An EIS is obligatory for four kinds of projects: power stations, airports, ports, and hazardous waste disposal sites. The regulations strongly urge the preparation of an EIS for landing strips, marinas, main water carriers, dams and reservoirs, sewage treatment plants, quarries and waste disposal sites if the planning authority considers that significant environmental impacts may occur beyond the immediate vicinity of the project. In fact, the regional planning authorities regard this recommendation as mandating an EIS, since all such projects must have significant impact beyond the immediate vicinity. The regulations also require an EIS if a proposed industrial plant is situated outside a designated industrial area and its location, scale or operation may generate adverse impacts beyond the immediate vicinity. While EISs for major urban and interurban roads are not included in the statutory list, planning authorities nevertheless require the preparation of EISs for these projects. In fact, roads and associated facilities form the largest group of EISs required.

In addition, any planning authority (national, district or local) may require an EIS on any plan expected to have environmental implications, and every ministerial representative on the national or district planning levels may require an EIS for any plan under discussion. Since the Ministry of the Environment is represented on the national and regional planning authorities, it can exercise its right to require an EIS if the authorities themselves do not do so.

Because EISs are prepared during the initial designation of an area for industrial purposes, they usually do not cover specific industries within such areas. Several local planning authorities do require non-statutory EISs when they suspect that an industrial proposal may have adverse environmental impact, but the failure of national regulations to require EISs for building permits for industrial plants should be remedied. In the meantime, the framework for environmental assessment of specific industries is the Licensing of Businesses Law, which allows for special limitations, including environmental ones, to be incorporated into business licenses.

As of the end of 1991, 161 EISs had been commissioned: 27 for roads, parking centers and associated facilities; 23 for waste disposal sites or waste transfer stations; 18 for industries; 17 for quarries; 14 for power stations; 11 for ports or marinas; and the remaining 51 distributed among railway lines, water works, residential and commercial projects, tourist and recreation facilities, public institutions, marine facilities, and wastewater treatment plants (Figure 30).

The regulations specify that EISs be prepared in accordance with guidelines, formally issued by the planning authority but prepared by the Ministry of the Environment. The ministry invests special efforts in the preparation of appropriate plan-specific guidelines to ensure that the EIS, when submitted, will be a useful tool to decision-makers. Experience over the past few years shows that specifically-tailored guidelines produce useful EIS documents, which are not hampered by generalized, irrelevant data.

An EIS includes five sections as follows:

1. A description of the environment to which the plan relates, before its implementation;

2. Specification of the reasons for preference of the proposed siting of the plan and activities resulting from its implementation.

3. A description of the activities resulting from implementation of the given plan.

4. Specification and assessment of the projected environmental impact resulting from the implementation of the plan.

5. EIS findings and proposed conditions to be included in the plan.

The developer is responsible for preparation of the EIS in accordance with the guidelines prepared by the Ministry of the Environment. While the regulations do not specify how an EIS should be reviewed, the Ministry of the Environment has examined all EISs since 1987. Experts at the ministry evaluate each EIS and issue an opinion which includes a summary of the main findings of the EIS, the ministry’s conclusions about the assessment, and a list of recommendations for the planning authority. In almost every case, the planning authority welcomes the professional advice it receives from the Ministry of the Environment and incorporates all of its recommendations in its decision concerning the plan.

The EIS has proved to be a highly effective tool for a very limited number of complicated cases where severe environmental impacts are anticipated, and where the plan is sufficiently detailed for the impacts to be identified and forecasted. National and regional planning authorities now rely on it as the correct framework for checking such cases, and the public uses it as a basic document upon which to base objections.

It is, however, a limited tool in terms of the land-use planning process, since only 1-2% of plans with environmental implications require EISs. The EIS is not an appropriate tool for checking multiple small plans, each with some degree of environmental impact, which together may result in significant cumulative impact. For smaller-scale proposals, representatives of the Ministry of the Environment evaluate accumulated effects and make recommendations to the planning authorities; in most cases, their advice is accepted and incorporated into the planning decision.

Geographical Information Systems

The development of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in recent years has led to important breakthroughs in the organization and analysis of geographic data for environmental purposes. A GIS is a computer mapping/database system which enables the user to present physical, statistical or thematic data in their geographical context. Cartography comes into play in environmental planning primarily as an overylay technique in which data sets, such as areas exposed to environmental nuisances or areas of natural and landscape value, are mapped. Automated cartograpy is used in resource management to identify areas of sensitivity and areas of conflict.

The Ministry of the Environment’s Planning Division has been using the GIS as a planning tool since 1988. To-date, three main databases were developed.

The first GIS project undertaken by the ministry was the Mediterranean coast database, which originally produced the maps included in the National Outline Scheme for the Mediterranean Coast. In the plan, the coastal area is divided into 18 designated sections/maps, each of which includes the following layers of information: designated land-use features; areas with archeological, vegetation, and natural landscape sites; and communication lines (i.e. roads, railroads). The Mediterranean coast database is now being expanded to include information on monitoring sites and beach access for use by the Marine and Coastal Environment Division of the Ministry of the Environment.

The second database covers the area of the country north of Ashkelon and will in the future be expanded to include the Negev as well. It includes information, based on national outline schemes, on areas exposed to airport noise, quarries, roads, and solid waste sites as well as areas of aquifer sensitivity. Recently, this information was combined, analyzed and displayed in map form for use in the National Outline Scheme for Immigrant Absorption. Sites designated for residential building and industrial development were checked with the database to identify areas which may be subject to nuisances.

The third database deals with open spaces. It includes the boundaries of the national parks, nature reserves and landscape reserves designated in the national and regional masterplans; areas of special landscape value which were identified in a survey of open space landscapes conducted by Israel’s nature and environmental protection bodies; and areas proposed for afforestation in the National Outline Scheme for Forests and Afforestation. This database, which covers the area north of Ashkelon, will provide a basis for open space policy and decision making.