A provincial planning system in flux

Development in Simcoe, as it is throughout the Toronto-related Region, is shaped by provincial planning policy. At present, however, the key provincial policies are under review, and the final outcome is unknown.

Smart Growth Panel

In 2002, the Province established a series of regional Smart Growth Panels, each of which was asked to define the actions required to best manage growth over the next 30 years. The Central Ontario Smart Growth Panel, centred on Toronto, was asked to recommend short-, medium- and long-term actions required to accommodate an additional three million people in the Central Zone. The final report, issued in April 2003, recommended the Province's return to direct involvement in regional coordination through substantial investment in water, sewer, and transit infrastructure. The method of implementation is unclear, however: recommendation 1a asks that "The province establish an accountable stakeholder body, advisory to the province, with the authority and resources to co-ordinate implementation of elements of a Provincial Smart Growth strategy that cross municipal boundaries."44 The change in government following the general election of November 2003 places the future of the Smart Growth Panels in doubt. It remains to be seen whether the Smart Growth process will be expanded, re-branded, or dropped.

Review of the Provincial Policy Statement

The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) came into effect in 1996 and is currently undergoing a five-year review. The PPS paints the Province's land use goals in broad strokes; directing growth to existing settlement areas and away from environmentally sensitive lands or resources to enhance economic growth and public health and safety. The review, which began in May of 2001 and has no set conclusion date, included a series of workshops and consultations from which key issues were summarized. These include setting a clear growth management strategy for the Province and strengthening the implementation requirements of provincial policies.45

Bill 26: Strong Communities Act

The Strong Communities (Planning Amendment) Act, if passed, will strengthen the PPS by requiring that Official Plans be "consistent with," rather than "have regard to," its policies. Since a key provincial policy is to direct growth to existing settlement areas and away from agricultural lands, this stronger wording could have considerable impact for those municipalities in Simcoe considering large-scale development proposals outside existing settlement areas.

Currently, any application to amend an Official Plan must be reviewed within 90 days or the applicant has grounds to appeal it to the OMB. Bill 26 would give municipalities more time to respond to OPA applications by changing the time period to 180 days. Further measures in Bill 26 would prevent appeals to the OMB by developers of urban expansions that are opposed by elected municipal governments.46

Bill 27: Greenbelt Protection Act

The Province's Greenbelt Protection Act passed its second reading in April 2004. It will establish a greenbelt study area that includes the Oak Ridges Moraine, lands between the Moraine and the urban settlement boundaries of municipalities in Peel and York Regions, the Niagara Escarpment and the Niagara tender fruit lands. A Greenbelt Task Force has been appointed to lead public consultations on the scope, content and implementation of the greenbelt.

Until the Act is passed, the Minister of Municipal Affairs has passed a zoning order to "temporarily prevent new urban uses outside existing urban boundaries on rural and agricultural lands within key portions of the study area."47 Lands in Peel and York Regions are most affected by the zoning order.

44. Government of Ontario, Shape the Future: Report of the Central Ontario Smart Growth Panel. April 2003.
45. Government of Ontario. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. "Provincial Policy Statement." Website. <www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_1_8198_1.html>.
46. Government of Ontario. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. "Proposed Planning Reforms." Website. <www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_1_16239_1.html>.
47. Government of Ontario. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. "Greenbelt Protection." Website <www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_1_16289_1.html>