On May 18th Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs, Bill Mauro, released the newly updated Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, Greenbelt Plan, Niagara Escarpment Plan and Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (Growth Plan).
Each of these four plans was, at the time of development, heralded as leading edge; each took a landscape approach to planning based on the most current conservation science. The Niagara Escarpment Plan, introduced in 1985, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, 2002, the Greenbelt Plan, 2005, and the Growth Plan, 2006 together protect natural systems and agricultural lands, while guiding growth to reduce sprawling housing developments across the GGH and up the Bruce Peninsula. This Coordinated Review, initiated in February 2015, was intended to gauge these plans’ effectiveness and update them.
While the Province is moving the yardstick in the right direction, we have identified some significant concerns with the newly finalized plans (See our press release and coverage in the Toronto Star).
What we’re pleased to see:
A commitment to extend Greenbelt-like protections to a natural heritage system across the GGH
A commitment to support agricultural viability by identifying an agricultural system across the GGH
Minimal changes to the Greenbelt’s original boundaries and no land swapping, despite more than 650 applications to remove lands from the Greenbelt
Higher intensification and density targets for communities across the region to reduce sprawl and promote complete communities
An inclusion of 21 Urban River Valleys and associated coastal wetlands, along with 5 parcels of land in Hamilton, Niagara and Halton into the Greenbelt
A renewed commitment to watershed planning in the GGH through the development of resources for municipalities to identify their water resource systems
What we’re disappointed to see:
A step backwards in the protection of Ontario’s most vulnerable plants and animals
Possible expansion for towns and villages in the Greenbelt through a Municipal Comprehensive Review
Previously all towns and villages in the Greenbelt had a freeze on any urban boundary expansion
Limited commitment to grow the Greenbelt
Despite the addition of some low-hanging fruit, the government has made only lukewarm commitments to protecting the Bluebelt’s vulnerable water supplies beyond the current Greenbelt boundaries
Some systemic problems which negatively impact the water, nature and communities of the GGH were not addressed
E.g. the adverse impacts of infrastructure development, excess soil dumping on the Moraine and Greenbelt, and water-takings were left unresolved
Credit: David Coulson
Over the summer we are expecting the government to initiate new public consultations to: 1) map a natural heritage system; 2) identify an agricultural system; 3) develop guidance materials to identify a water resources system; and 4) initiate a process to grow the Greenbelt into vulnerable water supply areas.
The Coordinated Review was kicked off back in February 2015. Since then the Oak Ridges Moraine Partnership, made up of Ontario Nature, EcoSpark, the STORM Coalition and Earthroots, has been advocating for stronger laws, a stronger landscape and a stronger legacy for the GGH. Here is a brief timeline of the Coordinate Review to date:
Coordinated Review Timeline
Josh Wise is Ontario Nature’s Greenway Program Manager.