Worker camp dispute threatens Jerusalem high-speed railway delay

An appeal has been filed against the a temporary workers camp for 500 construction workers near Sha'ar Hagai.

The NIS 7 billion national project to build the high speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway may face another delay over objections to a camp for workers. Sources inform ''Globes'' that the Jerusalem Regional Planning Bureau has filed an appeal with the Jerusalem Regional Planning and Building Commission's appeals committee against the Mateh Binyamin Local Planning and Building Commission's approval of a request by Israel Railways to build a camp for 500 workers near Sha'ar Hagai, the entrance to the Jerusalem Hills. The camp is intended to house workers on the high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway project.

The railway project has already been delayed several times because of objections by environmental organizations and residents of Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem, among other reasons. The permit for the workers camp relates to the section of the railway that Shafir Civil and Marine Engineering Ltd. is building, including two 11.5-kilometer tunnels, which the workers began digging three months ago. The workers are due to remain on the site for two years until the work is completed.

The appeal against the camp says that the decision to build it near Sha'ar Hagai is illegal, because the relevant planning rules do not permit residential use at the site, and the decision should therefore be revoked. "This is a national project the importance of which for the Jerusalem District is not in doubt," states the appeal. "Nonetheless, the importance of this project does not justify activity that contravenes the valid planning instructions and is contemptuous of the rule of law, in that construction and use have taken place before a building permit has been issued."

Sources at Israel Railways, the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, and Shafir Engineering, are astonished by the Regional Planning Commission's conduct. They says that the building permit for the camp was legally issued a long time ago, and that if the appeal is accepted, it could delay one of Israel's most important national projects.

Israel Railways said, "Construction of the high speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway is one of the most complex and important projects that Israel Railways is building for Israel's residents. This project, which the government is promoting at an investment of NIS 7 billion, will directly affect the standard of living of more than 800,000 residents of Israel's capital and its economy. The high-speed line will link Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in just 30 minutes, help strengthen Jerusalem's residents and economy, remove thousands of vehicles from the roads, and save drivers more than 4.94 million travel hours a year driving between Israel's two biggest cities. As part of this project, Israel Railways is assisting the contractors' preparations and speeding up the work."

Mateh Binyamin Regional Council chief Moshe Dadon told "Globes", "Construction of the line to Jerusalem is a project of national importance, and the council is seeking to facilitate it. There is no question that construction of residences for the workers for a limited period, a normal practice in the world, is the best solution for the current situation, in which there is no place to settle the hundreds of workers. It should be noted that no permit has yet been approved in the discussions with the Regional Commission. All the legal arguments have been made, and in our opinion, there is no legal impediment to housing the workers at the chosen site."

The Regional Planning Commission said in response, "The line to Jerusalem is one of the most important projects in Israel, but Israel Railways must still act within the law. The Jerusalem Regional Commissioner at the Ministry of Interior, Dalit Zilber, warned Israel Railways management in writing and verbally a year ago that, under the Planning and Building Law and in accordance with the plan valid for the site, it is not possible to house workers at the site organized by Israel Railways."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 31, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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