by SUSAN MANN
Urban municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe wanting to expand their boundaries will face stricter requirements before being able to encroach on neighbouring farmland, according to new provincial government proposals.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Don McCabe applauds the government’s move to increase the targets municipalities have to meet when permitting housing and infrastructure construction within their own boundaries before they can look “to expand onto new territory.”
Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal says in an emailed statement from his press adviser the proposals help “to ensure farms continue to flourish in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.”
Released Tuesday, the Ontario government proposals are in response to the recommendations of the Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe: 2015-2041 report released last year and the public input received in connection with that report. An advisory panel chaired by former Toronto mayor David Crombie did the report reviewing four land use plans in Ontario.
The plans are – the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan.
Considered to be Canada’s fastest growing urban region, the Greater Golden Horseshoe is wrapped around the western end of Lake Ontario. Its outer boundaries stretch north to Georgian Bay and south to Lake Erie.
Population in the region is projected to grow to 13.5 million people in 25 years, from nine million people currently. The number of jobs is forecast to grow to 6.3 million in 25 years from 4.5 million now, the Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe report says.
Farmland makes up half of the land area of the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and the agricultural industry is one of the most important economic sections of the region.
The Planning for Health report notes the four land use plans that were reviewed provide a framework to accommodate population and employment growth along with protecting vital assets, such as high quality farmland, water resources and natural areas.
Leal says the advisory panel’s recommendations “support agricultural viability and farmland preservation by setting strict limits on the expansion of urban areas while allowing more flexibility for agriculture use in the Greenbelt.”
McCabe says the government proposals released Tuesday recognize “agriculture as a significant land use (within the Greater Golden Horseshoe) and therefore it should be protected.”
“The Provincial Policy Statement of 2014 is somewhat of a base for part of this action,” he notes.
In its set of proposals, the Ontario government says it would be required to “identify an agricultural system for the Greater Golden Horseshoe that builds on the Greenbelt” and it would do that in collaboration with municipalities. The municipalities “would be required to plan and protect the agricultural system’s long term viability.”
The types of uses allowed on the agricultural lands would be clarified by making the four plans’ policies consistent with those in the Provincial Policy Statement.
McCabe says the language in the four land-use planning documents will also be harmonized “to ensure greater clarity and integrity.” Currently language in the documents is misleading or “just plain confusing.”
If the government changes are approved, the four planning documents “will have the same words meaning the same thing,” he says.
The government proposals say the plans would support the agricultural sector by clarifying when and how new or expanded agriculture and related uses, such as farm sheds, would be permitted next to natural heritage features, such as wetlands, woodlands, streams and inland lakes.
Furthermore, to minimize the impact infrastructure or other development could have on farming operations, the government suggests municipalities and infrastructure proponents should do agricultural impact assessments before new projects are launched or settlement areas expanded.
About the proposals to expand the Greenbelt, McCabe says those should not impact the agricultural industry.
“There could be some private properties that are involved in some of those regions. However, there aren’t any exact details yet to be able” to know what the impact will be, he says.
The proposals call for 21 major river valleys and seven associated coastal wetlands to be added to the Greenbelt Plan’s “urban river valley” designation. In addition, four parcels of land in the City of Hamilton and Niagara Region would be added to the Greenbelt Plan’s “protected countryside” designation.
The Greenbelt has almost two million acres of protected land, including the Niagara Escarpment, Oak Ridges Moraine and protected countryside located in the centre of the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The Greenbelt Plan protects important ecological and hydrological systems, prime farmland, rural and specialty crop areas.
The government is seeking comment on its proposals. Information on how to comment is available here:
There will also be several government-sponsored open houses so people can learn more about the proposals. Information about those sessions is available here: