In May 2016, the Provincial Government released draft changes or amendments to 4 provincial laws that set the rules for what can and cannot happen on ecological, agricultural and urban lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. This is the result of a review process that began in Spring 2015. When the process began, TEA and the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance identified actions we hoped the Province will take (eg. growing the Greenbelt) and threats that we hoped the draft changes would address.
Below is a summary of the key proposed changes announced by the Province and our commentary, based on what we’ve been calling for over the past year:
Growing the Greenbelt:
The Province wants to grow the Greenbelt by adding public lands adjacent to 21 urban river valleys, including the following rivers in Toronto: Humber River, Don River, and Etobicoke Creek.
This is great news. TEA has been calling for this since 2009. Toronto City Council called for this twice in 2010 and 2014. Over 4,000 Torontonians signed petitions in support of this. These new Greenbelt lands, adjacent to the rivers, will now connect the Greenbelt lands to the north to Lake Ontario. It also means they have the same level of permanent protection as other Greenbelt lands.
The Province will start a process to identify possible lands outside the Greenbelt that contain important water features are are ecologically significant. This will hopefully lead to new lands being added to the Greenbelt in the next few years.
This is both good news and bad news. The good news is that there is now a process in place to expand Greenbelt protection to other important ecologically significant lands that are currently outside the Greenbelt. The bad news is that this will take time, even though these lands have been identified and need protection today.
Building Better Communities
The Province wants to increase urban density targets for municipalities adjacent to the Greenbelt.
This is good news, assuming these targets are enforced. This will mean municipalities will have to build new communities that make it easier for people to walk and cycle.
The Province wants to build complete communities that are good for the environment, the economy and people.
This is good news for everyone. Higher density communities promote a healthier lifestyle, are more affordable and create significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Taking Climate Change Seriously
The Province wants to encourage cities to take action on climate change by developing emission reduction targets, getting water and sewage systems ready for climate change, and using more green infrastructure.
It’s good news that the Province has finally acknowledged the central role cities play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change. What’s unclear is whether it’s enough to simply encourage cities to act, as opposed to requiring them to act.
What is Missing:
The Province has no plans to put a freeze on urban boundaries. This will allow municipalities in the future to continue with activities that cause urban sprawl, which will harm the Greenbelt and undermine efforts to reduce climate change.
By not freezing urban boundaries, municipalities still have the means to create more urban sprawl: they could transform lands adjacent to the Greenbelt into new suburban subdivisions and roads. This sprawl would have a negative impact on the agricultural and ecological lands that are part of the Greenbelt.
As well, urban sprawl is a significant cause of greenhouse gas emissions. It makes no sense for the Province to keeping the door open to urban sprawl while at the same time working to cut carbon emissions through a number of other policy mechanisms (eg. a cap and trade system).
OCTOBER 3 2016 UPDATE:
Developers have made upwards of 600 requests to the province as part of the Coordinated Land Use Planning Review to take land out of the Greenbelt and make it available for development, even though they have access to over 100,000 hectares of land outside the Greenbelt that is ready to develop.
As well, there is pressure to change planning rules to make it easier for towns and villages within the Greenbelt to expand their boundaries and allow for urban sprawl.
Put simply, the Greenbelt is under threat by developers pushing urban sprawl.