What are the Greenbelt’s shortcomings?

A. Many important natural heritage features in the region will remain poorly protected

Map 4: Where are Greenlands Protected?

Greenlands are vulnerable

A recent major study for the Neptis Foundation, The State of Greenlands Protection in South-Central Ontario (July 2004) showed that although the region's important natural features are clearly identified in official plans and other government documents, many are not adequately protected. Some features, such as provincially significant wetlands, are quite secure and likely to persist. But every year, less well-protected features -- such as wetlands that have not been defined as provincially significant, as well as certain wildlife habitats and environmentally significant areas -- are lost to urban development.

Greenlands outside the Greenbelt deserve equal protection

The Greenbelt covers, by area, only 30.4% of the identified greenlands in the Toronto Metropolitan Region. The remaining 69.6% will be unaffected by the Greenbelt. Important natural heritage features outside the Greenbelt deserve equal protection with those in the Greenbelt area. Indeed, their absence from the Plan may place them under increased development pressure.

B. Farms outside the Greenbelt need protection too

Map 5 How Much Prime Agricultural Land is to be Protected in the Region?

Farming: a valuable and sustainable industry

Neptis has conducted extensive research on agriculture in the Toronto Metropolitan Region. Agriculture in the Central Ontario Zone was published in 2003 and two other reports, one on the region's agriculture production and one on the perspective of farmers in the region, will be published in 2005. The reports explain that not only does the region contain some of Canada's best farmland, but the region also has sustainable sources of water, relatively long growing seasons, and access to a large urban market.

Agriculture in the Toronto Metropolitan Region, if properly managed and supported, could flourish indefinitely. Even land that has been degraded by short-term farming practices -- in the expectation that it will one day be developed -- can be restored to productivity. Moreover, relatively small farms producing high-value crops close to an affluent urban market can be both profitable and sustainable.

About three-quarters of the region's prime farmland lies outside the proposed Greenbelt. This land will thus receive no additional protection beyond municipal zoning regulations which, Neptis research has shown, are rarely effective at protecting farmland in fast-growing areas.* Some of the areas excluded from the Greenbelt -- such as in the southern part of Simcoe County and parts of the GTA south of the Greenbelt -- contain the prime farmland most threatened by urban expansion.

Protecting agricultural land will not, on its own, protect agriculture. To ensure the viability of agriculture in the region, additional government action will likely be needed. But land protection is the first, essential step. Other farm-friendly policies are pointless if the land base is gone.

C. The Greenbelt, on its own, will do little to help manage urban growth

Map 6: Traffic Congestion in the GTA and Hamilton

When the proposed Greenbelt Plan was released, the government announced that the plan would "curb unplanned urban sprawl" by setting "strict limits on urban boundaries."* While this might hold true within the Greenbelt, the plan will do very little to curb sprawl outside the belt.

Sprawl in the Region

Although there is no agreed-on definition for the word "sprawl," it is commonly understood to mean single-use, automobile-dependent development, with low overall density, on the urban fringe.

The Neptis Foundation has analysed recent and present development patterns, which it calls "business-as-usual" development, and has modelled the likely effects of 30 more years of similar development in the region. This research, published as the Toronto-Related Region Futures Study: Implications of Business-As-Usual Development (June 2002), leaves little doubt that, if present trends continue, the problems of sprawl will increase. It shows that if current development patterns remain unchanged, urban development would consume, by 2031, an area slightly less than twice the size of the current City of Toronto, and that problems of congestion, air quality, and the inefficient use of infrastructure -- already bad -- would worsen.

The problems of future sprawl will be particularly acute for those who live at the edge of the urban area, in places like north Oakville, north Brampton, Woodbridge, Richmond Hill, and Markham. These areas are already experiencing traffic congestion, but are not designed to accommodate public transit networks. Neptis research has shown that these dysfunctions will increase as the areas that are currently on the urban fringe become enveloped by further business-as-usual urban expansion. (See Map 6)

Map 7: The Urban Fringe in the GTA and Hamilton

Will the Greenbelt help?

Although the Greenbelt would prohibit urban expansion within its own boundaries, it would not generally serve as an effective regional growth management tool, at least not for several decades. The claim in the plan that the Greenbelt will serve as the "cornerstone" of a new regional growth plan is overstated.

For much of its length, the Greenbelt is many kilometres from the current edge of urban develop-ment. Urban expansion can thus continue in its current form for years -- perhaps two generations or more -- before coming up against the protected lands of the belt. In fact, the Greenbelt is even farther from the urban edge than it appears on the government's maps. The urban area shown on these maps is the entire designated urban area, not the extent of actual urban development. (See map above and next page.) In most places, the outer fringe of this designated urban land has yet to be built on, and is in place because Ontario municipalities are required to maintain a supply of land for future urban expansion. The Greenbelt Plan will leave, altogether, approximately 146,000 hectares of land -between the current edge of urban development and the belt's proposed southern boundary, nearly all of it under strong development pressure. It is therefore hard to see how the Greenbelt will affect the pattern of urban expansion in the region for the foreseeable future.

Furthermore the Greenbelt, being limited to the municipalities of the inner part of the region, will not affect development to the north and west. A recent Neptis study, Simcoe County: The New Growth Frontier (May 2004), showed that lands have already been assembled and plans prepared for large developments in this area. To control sprawl, south Simcoe County and other areas beyond the Greenbelt will need to be brought under scrutiny as well. (See Map 8)

Map 8: Development Pressure in Simcoe County

A slice of Peel Region

Map 9: Slice of Peel

The map and satellite image further illustrate the difference between the built-up urban area and designated urban expansion lands. Apart from a few gaps, Mississauga is now almost completely built out to its borders. To the north, Brampton is growing rapidly -- it added more than 57,000 new residents between 1996 and 2001. Its southern half is largely built up, so the municipality has designated most of its northern half for urban expansion over the next decade. Caledon, the most northerly municipality in Peel and partly covered by the Greenbelt, remains largely rural. One can see the large band of countryside between the southern limit of the Greenbelt and the northern limit of Brampton. Some of this land is designated for urban growth and some is not, but none of it is protected by the Greenbelt. Nearly all of it is prime agricultural land currently being farmed.