Last year, we reported that the Government of Ontario was taking steps to amend the land use plans and policies that guide how the Greater Golden Horseshoe grows. As part of this initiative the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Niagara Escarpment Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan were under going co-ordinated amendments led by an advisory board led by former Toronto Mayor David Crombie and developed through a series of public consultations over the past two years. The updated plans are set to be released in the coming weeks, with the Niagara Escarpment Plan becoming effective on June 1st, and the rest on July 1st. As part of these amendments, the province is also requiring that municipalities review and update their own official plans in order to conform to the changes by 2022. 

The four amended plans, were shaped concurrently in order to facilitate the retention and growth of jobs and investment within urban centres, yet protect and preserve green space, farmland, and natural land and water in the region. It is also clear throughout the plans that transit-oriented policies are a top priority, with current and future transit projects at the core of many initiatives. The advisory board has outlined six key highlights of the amended plans that encompass the general direction. 

Updated map showing the Greenbelt Area in the GGH, image courtesy of the ProvincUpdated map showing the Greenbelt Area in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, image courtesy of the Province of Ontario

Building Complete Communities 

Sustainable—economically and environmentally—communities that support a multitude of lifestyles and income levels are at the core of the plans. Amendments in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe aim to support mixing of housing types for all income levels and lifestyles. Initiatives to combat urban and suburban sprawl come in the form of increased intensification targets, meaning in 2022 50% of residential development will be directed to already built-up areas, and that will increase to 60% in 2031. The plans also involve guiding developments around transit-served areas, while also having minimum density targets for key transit areas along priority corridors—such as 150 residents and jobs combined per hectare for GO train service, 160 residents and jobs combined per hectare for light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT), and 200 residents and jobs combined per hectare for subways. In order to retain the region's economic competitiveness a new "prime employment area" designation will be created to protect areas of employment of all types, and all conversions from employment use to non-employment use must be approved and analyzed by the province. 

Planning for Infrastructure

As the Greater Golden Horseshoe continues to grow, it would be impossible to constrict the growth of infrastructure, thus a clear direction is set for municipalities to integrate the land use plan guidelines and infrastructure planning and development, while protecting lands reserved for the movement of goods and people.

Growing the Greenbelt

The Greenbelt is set to expand—inwards for now—as 21 major urban river valleys and seven coastal wetlands are set to be added to the Greenbelt protection area. Five individual areas of land within Hamilton, Niagara, and Halton Hills will be added to the protected countryside of the Greenbelt. However, more may be on the way as the Provincial Government is introducing policies to facilitate the future expansion of the Greenbelt on the outer edges. 

Responding to Climate Change

No doubt a pressing issue of our time, advisory board and public has identified that steps need to be taken in order to reduce the impact of a changing climate on the region, specifically at the municipal scale. As part of these steps, municipalities will be required to include climate change related politics in their official plans as well as encourage the development of Greenhouse gas inventories, emission reduction strategies, and related targets. Municipalities will also be responsible for developing storm water management plans and conduct climate change vulnerability risk assessments when developing or replacing infrastructure. 

Protecting Natural Heritage and Water

Greenbelt-level protection will be applied to wetlands, woodlands, rivers part of the natural heritage system beyond the Greenbelt, where municipalities would be responsible to plan and protect the systems themselves. New development of infrastructure and projects as well as settlement expansion will also be influenced, as watershed planning would be required before construction of the project to determine if it could impact watersheds. 

Supporting a Viable Agricultural Sector 

A clean cut alignment of planning policies aim to increase the flexibility of uses occurring on farmland while clarifying the requirements and regulations for agricultural uses in natural heritage systems in order to reduce the burden on the agricultural sector and farm operators. 

Other Key Changes:

  • Reform Planning Act and the Development Charges Act through the Smart Growth for our Communities Act to improve the tools and processes communities and residents use to determine how their neighbourhoods grow and how they plan and pay for that growth.
  • Proposed reforms to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

The last key change is a contentious one, as the OMB reformation is one that is already highly complicated and impacts many aspects of the region's urban fabric, including the Greenbelt and protected areas. As these updated Greenbelt plans are released the reformation of the OMB is ongoing, and as the two are inherently interconnected, changes to one will ultimately influence the other. One proponent of this initiative is the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance who released a statement calling for citizen participation in the OMB formation process—only a day before the Province of Ontario released its updated land use plans. The Greenbelt Alliance states that despite reform "pending legislation must do more  to support citizen participation and ensure that planning decisions address complex environmental matters." Thus, as many already see the operations and role of the OMB as harmful to the protection of the Greenbelt and natural areas, many are hoping to change the OMB in a way that supports and helps the province's recent updates.

As all of these legislative developments are new, there are likely to be more in the near future. In the coming weeks we will provide you will an in-depth look into each of the plans, their amendments, and what it means for the region in the future. In the meantime, the updated plans and all details of the new amendments are available on an Ontario Government webpage