Too many communities out of Greenbelt plan
Their absence puts massive stress on clean water supplies
Ninety per cent of Ontarians support a bigger, stronger Greenbelt — a nearly two million acres swath of protected farmland and natural heritage systems around the country’s fastest growing region, the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). It is expected that we will gain 100,000 people a year until 2041.
So when the province’s proposed amendments to the Greenbelt Plan came out in May — along with the three other land-use plans under a co-ordinated review — I felt relief. Nothing terrible was being proposed, in fact, there is a modest recommendation to grow the Greenbelt (with Hamilton and Niagara getting two pieces added) totalling 15,000 acres of land and the province is working on a consultation policy as to how to grow the Greenbelt further.
The province plans to identify and map key hydrological areas beyond the Greenbelt, and extend natural heritage, water resources and agricultural systems protections into the GGH. Public land along 21 urban river valleys that feed into lake Ontario and seven coastal wetlands are being proposed for addition to this world-class greenbelt. Disappointingly, Hamilton was not offered urban river valleys of our own to be included in the mix (aside from Fifty Creek).
It is however, a big let down that many communities have been left out of the proposal for an expanded Greenbelt — leaving them vulnerable to existing and future growth pressures and putting massive stress on clean water supplies.
The Greenbelt Plan tells municipalities where they can’t grow. The Growth Plan says where and how they can. The Growth Plan helps to preserve the Greenbelt. Together, these plans aim to work holistically toward our shared prosperity across the various sectors.
While the Greenbelt Plan has some proposed changes, it is the Growth Plan that will see significant amendments.
For smarter growth to happen, the Growth Plan is proposing higher intensification targets from 40 per cent to 60 per cent and raising density on new developments from 50 to 80 people and jobs per hectare.
More growth will be directed to the existing urban areas and transit. There will be a welcomed focus on integrated planning of all kinds: Infrastructure (transportation, waste), energy and watershed planning, and identification of natural heritage and agriculture and water resource systems in the settlement areas. As well, municipalities will be required to provide data to be used to monitor plan implementation. Finally, a strong, underlying theme is climate change, and this runs throughout the plan.
In all this, let’s not lose sight of the fact that more than enough land has already been set aside to accommodate future growth forecasts in the GGH. Neptis Foundation executive director Marcy Burchfield explains that there are 107,100 hectares of land already designated for development both from the employment and the residential side until 2031.
“Our research shows that we can build new communities on land that is not already urbanized and intensify our existing communities and still not need to go into the Greenbelt,” Marcy says.
The Growth Plan could definitely be stronger. There are major concerns that need to be addressed. For example, there are no municipal hard urban boundaries and the worry is that with settlement area expansions, the risk is that municipalities could apply to have their boundaries expanded every five years, rather than the province leading a process every 10 years when reviewing the plans.
With the Neptis Foundation, “the Growth Plan is only as good as its implementation.” Historically, the first phase of the plan (2006) was “plagued with problems including appeals of municipal official plans to the Ontario Municipal Board, many of which remain unresolved to this day” because the province abdicated its role as a regional planner.
Basically, the province did not monitor the implementation of its own plan, nor did it provide guidance or support to municipalities that needed it.
What’s more, that 107,100 hectares of land I mentioned? It has already been allocated for future urbanization at lower intensification and density targets and in the context of less ambitious policies than those being proposed today. Not great.
Thankfully, the province, working to harmonize the four land-use plans and make them better (no small feat) is still seeking input on said plans, up until Sept. 30.
Groups such as the local nonprofit, Environment Hamilton, have planned public workshops to support individuals in preparing comments.
They are also a member of #GrowOurGB — a collaborative of more than 120 groups and organizations that have recently launched a campaign asking the province to expand the Greenbelt to include a comprehensive protected “Bluebelt” of vulnerable water supplies (including key headwater features, groundwater recharge areas, headwaters and surface water features) in Simcoe, Wellington, Waterloo, Brant and Northumberland — the idea being that watersheds should be the bases of any planning.
Their campaign asks the province to ensure complete mapping of these systems is quickly undertaken for the entire Greater Golden Horseshoe, and for the most significant and vulnerable water systems to be protected permanently by growing our Greenbelt.
The campaign is encouraging members of the public to submit comments to the province atgrowourgreenbelt.ca/action.
Andrew Dreschel will return