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York Region launches shocking attack on the Greenbelt: Eleven groups call on the Premier to take immediate action

Media Release: October 7, 2020

© Ken Lund CC BY-SA 2.0

York Region, Ont. – On Thursday October 8th, York Region Council will hold a vote on a proposal to request that the provincial government open the Greenbelt to development. If passed by Council, it will seek permission to prepare a municipal plan designating industrial and commercial employment land development on Greenbelt farmlands and natural areas along 400 series highways. The region also wants the Province to allow it to extend sewers and water mains that run to Lake Ontario deep into the Greenbelt.

Neither of these uses is currently permitted by the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan or the Growth Plan. If York Region Council approves the proposal, it will be turning its back on years of leadership in Moraine and Greenbelt protection.

“Ontarians love the Greenbelt, yet some municipalities and developers keep pushing for paving these protected lands. Premier Doug Ford must immediately make it clear that opening the Greenbelt to development is against the law and will never be approved by the provincial government,” said Tim Gray, Executive Director, Environmental Defence.

Astonishingly, this attack on the Greenbelt is not based on a need for more development land, as evidence from the development industry’s own planning consultants shows there are 12,000 hectares of land currently approved for development within municipal boundaries in York Region (page 98). This is larger than the entire area of the City of Richmond Hill and only slightly less than half the existing built employment land. Of this amount, 3,400 ha are employment lands, and 2,600 ha remain vacant as of 2017 (slide 1), larger than the total land area of King City.

If the removal of these lands from the Greenbelt is approved, they would likely end up as malls and sprawling subdivisions since surplus employment lands can be converted to commercial or residential zoning. “This is the not-so-thin edge of the wedge” said Cindy Whitelaw, Chair, Save the Oak Ridges Moraine. “A fact that’s underscored by the Region’s mention of looking forward to developing additional lands along the proposed Highways 413 and Holland Marsh Expressway (Bradford By-pass) if they are built through the Greenbelt.”

“These Greenbelt lands are in essence employment lands now,” said Debbie Gordon of Save the Maskinonge, because they are protected farmland that employs people and is part of Ontario’s largest industry: agriculture. “The Greenbelt is the only place in southern Ontario where farmlands are not being rapidly lost. This cannot be allowed to change.”

The request for the extension of Lake Ontario linked sewers and water mains is also a Trojan horse for low-density sprawl. Currently, they are not permitted to be extended into the Greenbelt because they stimulate more residential and commercial development in the middle of natural areas and farmland.

Two of the three areas proposed are in the Lake Simcoe watershed, and the area on Highway 400 between King and Vaughan contains areas of high quality natural cover. “It is inappropriate to take out natural areas that should be protected through the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, just when its legislative review is about to begin. We need better protection of these important natural features, not more malls,” said Claire Malcomson, Executive Director, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition.

“We are deeply concerned about piping water from, and sewage to, Lake Ontario,” said Andrew McCammon, Executive Director, Ontario Headwaters Institute. “This is the time to fix existing water problems, such as salt in lakes and groundwater, algae caused by phosphorus in sewage, and the lack of water conservation, not create more problems with ill-considered, expensive, and prohibited pipelines.”

“This is another attempt by the development industry to pave over the Greenbelt”, said Dr. Anne Bell, Director of Conservation and Education, Ontario Nature. “If the provincial government opens the Greenbelt at York Region’s request, it would set a terrible precedent. It would contradict repeated assurances by the Premier that the Greenbelt is off limits to development. Land speculators would make millions while the rest of us would lose precious farmland and natural areas forever.”

The Greenbelt was established in 2005 and permanently protects two million acres of farmlands and natural areas. Close to 90 per cent of Ontarians support its ongoing protection (link to poll).

Consult this backgrounder for more information about the York Region Council Staff Report recommending development in the Greenbelt.

Signatory Groups


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

  • Allen Braude, Senior Communications Manager, Environmental Defence, abraude@environmentaldefence.ca
  • Andrew McCammon, Executive Director, Ontario Headwaters Institute, 416-231-9484
  • John Hassell, Director of Communications and Engagement, Ontario Nature, 416-786-2171, johnh@ontarionature.org
  • Claire Malcolmson, Executive Director, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, 647-267-7572
  • Debbie Gordon, Save the Maskinonge, 905-853-8340
  • Cindy Whitelaw, Chair, Save the Oak Ridges Moraine, 905-242-5030
  • Paul Harpley, President, South Lake Simcoe Naturalists, 905-722-8021
  • Sony Rai, Director, Sustainable Vaughan, sustainablevaughan@gmail.com
  • Katie Krelove, Ontario Campaigner, Wilderness Committee, 647-208-4026
  • Gloria Marsh, Executive Director, York Region Environmental Alliance, 289-234-1524
  • Richard Berry, President, York Simcoe Nature Club,  yorksimcoenatureclub@gmail.com