On May 10, 2016, an advisory panel assembled by the Government of Ontario released a report outlining proposed changes to four land use plans relating to the Greater Golden Horseshoe region of southern Ontario.1 The panel was asked to propose changes in response to the region's high population growth and consequent development pressures. The four plans to which the proposed amendments relate are:
- The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe;
- The Greenbelt Plan;
- The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan; and
- The Niagara Escarpment Plan.
Together, the amendments as put forward by the advisory panel seek to effect change in the six areas summarized below.
Building Complete Communities
Complete communities - those that use land efficiently, have relatively short commute times, protect natural resources and support strong and competitive economies - need to be prioritized. In order to ensure the emergence and growth of such communities, the panel recommended focusing on density intensification over greenfield development, having a greater mix of housing types, and protecting employment areas. The panel noted that there are many opportunities for this type of growth - observing, for example, that only 167 of the region's 333 major transit stations currently serve employment areas and that a number of municipalities have not yet achieved the 40 percent intensification target set out in the 2006 Growth Plan.
In recognition of the fundamental importance of agriculture in the region, the panel put forward recommendations to promote identification and mapping of agricultural systems, to integrate the needs of agriculture throughout the four plans and to recognize the importance of locally sourced food and urban agriculture.
Protecting Natural and Cultural Heritage
In order to curb further environmental degradation and ensure the preservation of valuable resources in the region, the panel has recommended requiring integrated watershed and sub-watershed planning as a prerequisite for settlement area expansion, adding areas of critical hydrological significance to the Greenbelt, improving management of excess soil from development sites as well as increasing protection of cultural heritage. With goals of conserving biodiversity and minimizing habitat loss, the amendments will call for greater oversight and enforcement of conservation efforts as well as increased technical guidance on matters such as appropriate re-use and testing of excess soils.
Because much of the region's infrastructure is aging and in need of significant maintenance and upgrading, the panel put forward suggestions requiring greater integration of infrastructure and land use planning, focused intensification of transit networks and increasing efforts on transportation and demand management. The panel highlighted the need to designate and protect corridors for provincial and municipal infrastructure in order to avoid conflicting land uses as development continues. The amendments will bring a focus on the resiliency of new and existing infrastructure, including highways and stormwater management systems.
Mainstreaming Climate Change
Climate change was identified as one of the major issues facing the region and, in response to this, the panel recommended applying more aggressive intensification and density targets, improving and extending transit, promoting stronger protection of natural systems and agricultural lands, and directing municipalities to prepare specific climate change plans for implementation. For further information on Ontario's growing focus on climate change, please see this article from Stikeman Elliott's Energy Blog.
Implementation of the Plans
Lastly, the panel recognized that four separate land use plans can lead to inconsistency in implementation, policies, and even terminology. To address these concerns and ensure that these amendments are properly executed and prioritized, the panel advised reducing duplication of approval processes for the Niagara Escarpment Plan area, streamlining policy framework, terminology and timelines and developing a comprehensive monitoring plan.
Members of the public are invited to participate in a series of open houses in May and June, 2016 to provide input on these proposed changes. Details about these sessions can be found here. Online feedback can also be provided here.