Planning committee greenlights new ultra-Orthodox town in Negev

Panel rejects original plan for mixed religious-secular town aimed largely at IDF personnel and their families, saying it would compete unfairly with Beersheba, other Negev towns

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

The site for a new town temporarily called Tila in the Negev, southern Israel. (Yuval Dax, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)
The site for a new town temporarily called Tila in the Negev, southern Israel. (Yuval Dax, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)

A planning committee on Tuesday greenlighted the establishment of a new town in southern Israel’s Negev desert, on the condition that it be earmarked for an ultra-Orthodox population.

If it successfully moves through the entire planning process, the town — temporarily named Tila — will be located about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) north of the Negev’s capital city, Beersheba, near the town of Lehavim, east of Route 40.

It will comprise 15,000 residential units, as well as public buildings and commercial and employment facilities.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is fighting the plan, questioning the planners’ assertion that the area “is not environmentally sensitive” and saying it lacks logic from a planning, economic, social, and environmental point of view.

It called on the government Tuesday to strengthen Beersheba and other towns, many of which are home to socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.

The decision to establish a mixed religious-secular town for some 50,000 residents was made in October by the previous government, largely in light of the need to provide housing for military personnel as IDF bases are relocated to the south of the country.

This was opposed by the head of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, the city of Beersheba, the district planning committee, and even Finance Ministry representatives, because it would provide unfair competition to Beersheba and other towns trying to attract people of high socioeconomic standing.

Construction of new housing in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on November 18, 2022. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

In its decision, the national committee on planning principles noted that in line with national planning policy, it generally preferred to strengthen and expand existing population centers to concentrate development, use limited land resources wisely, and preserve open space as much as possible.

This was particularly relevant in the case of Tila, given the number of new residential units already being built or planned in existing urban areas.

But while rejecting the idea of a new mixed religious-secular town, the committee agreed with the district planning committee that housing was needed for ultra-Orthodox families in the area.

After an 8-4 vote in favor, it will recommend to the national planning committee that Tila be built for this population.

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