Land use planning sets the blueprint for our communities. It affects almost every aspect of our lives from how far we commute to work or school, the size and location of parks, how many people live in an area, and where businesses and houses can be built. It also significantly influences our natural environment. For example, when a land use plan allows development in a wetland or forest, it negatively affects the abundance and diversity of species in that area.
Land use planning is also critical to climate change mitigation. Land use drives our dependence on vehicles, and transportation fuels represents one of Ontario’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Our upcoming energy conservation report will examine this issue further, stay tuned.
The Ontario government has proposed a number of changes to four provincial land use plans following a year-long review, which included extensive public consultation and recommendations from an Advisory Council (Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe: 2015-2041). The four plans are: the Niagara Escarpment Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, the Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
Over the last decade, the ECO has reviewed and reported on many different issues that affect land use planning, from the siting of aggregate operations to how species at risk should be protected. In fact, some of the government’s proposed changes to these four land use plans relate to concerns we’ve raised before, including:
- Requiring watershed planning to inform decisions on development, settlement area boundary expansions and planning for water, wastewater and stormwater initiatives (Greenbelt Plan). In 2010, the ECO recommended that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing require integrated watershed management planning (A Watershed Moment? Ontario Introduces the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, ECO’s 2009/2010 Annual Report);
- Requiring municipalities to incorporate and protect a natural heritage system as mapped by the province (Growth Plan). In 2011, the ECO reported that a coarse-scale natural heritage system was missing in southern Ontario and recommended that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry develop one for municipalities to build upon when identifying and planning their fine-scale natural heritage systems (Connecting the Green Dots: The Natural Heritage Reference Manual, ECO’s 2010/2011 Annual Report);
- Increasing the minimum intensification target from 40 per cent to 60 per cent of residential development within the built up area of the upper- or single-tier municipality. And increase the minimum density target for designated greenfield areas from 50 to 80 residents and jobs per hectare, across the upper- or single-tier municipality (Growth Plan). In 2014, the ECO reported that despite the Growth Plan’s goal of intensification, the Ontario government had authorized lower alternative intensification and greenfield density targets for many municipalities in the outer-ring of the Greater Golden Horseshoe beyond the Greenbelt, allowing communities to continue a pattern of low density development that is too sparse to support even basic transit services (Rocky Rollout of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, ECO’s 2013/2014 Annual Report).
Other key proposed changes include:
- Adding 21 urban river valleys and some lands within Grimsby, Thorold, Hamilton and the Municipality of Grey Highlands to the Greenbelt (Greenbelt Plan);
- Requiring municipalities to integrate climate change policies into municipal official plans and to conduct climate change vulnerability risk assessments for infrastructure to increase resilience (Growth Plan); and
- Requiring municipalities to develop greenhouse gas inventories, emission reduction targets and related performance measures (Growth Plan).
Ontarians now have the opportunity to provide input on the government’s proposed amendments until September 30, 2016. You can submit comments through the Environmental Registry:
- Greenbelt Plan (Environmental Registry #012-7195);
- Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (Environmental Registry #012-7194);
- Niagara Escarpment Plan (Environmental Registry #012-7228);
- Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (Environmental Registry #012-7197); and
- Greenbelt Area boundary regulation (Environmental Registry #012-7198).
In addition, the province is hosting a series of open houses across the Greater Golden Horseshoe in May and June. For more information on how to attend these open houses, see the website of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Don’t miss your opportunity to have a say in the future of the Greater Golden Horseshoe’s natural and built landscape!