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Earlier this month, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing released Planning for Health, Prosperity, and Growth as part of its co-ordinated review of land use plans in Ontario. The report provided a total of 87 recommendations about building communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

This report is the outcome of the province’s February 2015 announcement of its intention to do a co-ordinated review of the following interrelated plans:

  1. The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006)
  2. The Greenbelt Plan (2005)
  3. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2002)
  4. The Niagara Escarpment Plan (1985, revised in 1994 and 2005)

The Greenbelt subsumes all the lands in the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan, and expands the overall protected area, with a view to protecting important agricultural resources. The complementary Growth Plan provides guidance and targets for new growth and intensification in areas where development will be permitted.

The Growth Plan created concepts like “complete communities”, communities that support a diverse mix of land uses and housing types, a range of employment opportunities, high-quality public open space, a variety of transportation options, and easy access to services and shops, and set intensification and density targets for development. The aim was to take up less space, and provide for active transportation options and transit. These “complete communities” are intended to be the opposite of suburban sprawl, where communities are highly car dependent, with largely single-family dwelling homes that eat up large amounts of land, cost a fortune in infrastructure maintenance, and forever alter the landscape.

A key issue that was never directly addressed through these plans was that of climate change. While the plans have the effect of addressing climate change through reduction in car use, and avoiding the loss of greenspace, the issue was still not being taken seriously 10 years ago when the Greenbelt and Growth Plans were in the planning and approval stages.

As the report indicates, despite provincial and municipal initiatives, greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow. Ontario will fall significantly short of its targets. Emissions from buildings and transportation continue to climb, constituting 51% of Ontario’s total emissions.

Pembina Institute’s research, highlighted in the report, noted that to achieve the necessary reductions, the intensification targets would need to go up to 60% from 40%, and the density target for designated greenfield areas would need to be increased to 70 people and jobs/ha from the current target of 50. Complementary actions to increase transit and active transportation options are also needed.

The expert panel report also notes that systems-based protection of agricultural land, natural areas and water resources is important to maintaining the natural functions of these areas, and thus their long-term carbon sequestration.

The province is currently developing a long-term strategy on climate change. The expert panel considers it “crucial that the climate change strategy and action plan and the outcome of this review complement each other.”

To this end, the panel made two key recommendations (nos. 67 and 68):

  1. Include climate change mitigation and adaptation in the vision, goals and policies of the four plans;
  2. Require municipalities to prepare climate change plans or incorporate policies into official plans to advance climate change mitigation and adaptation goals consistent with the province’s climate change strategy and action plan.

The report is important reading for anyone interested in sustainable community development. We commend the expert panel and look forward to the final outcome of the review, resulting in amended plans, expected by summer 2016.

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