More Sprawl

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) lays the foundation for decisions on where land, which is either natural & wild or farmed for our food, is developed for housing or business or roads.  The Province is proposing an amendment to the Plan about which I am very concerned.

.One of the proposed changes is to have municipalities plan out till 2051. Given that statistics from Ministry of Finance indicate that there is adequate land zoned appropriately to meet forecasted needs through to 2041 (the current planning horizon) I don’t know why we would take the risk of municipalities developing Official Plans (OP) out to 2051.  The pandemic has forced a significant portion of the working population to work at home.  (The simple confirmation of this is to look at the empty GO train parking lot in King City Monday-Friday.) The number of companies announcing that employees may work remotely permanently is growing. Today I would not want to make any significant decision with assumptions as to how much office space will be required in the future.   Would it not be prudent to wait a couple years?  In addition, there will be a census is 2021; why not wait for this and leverage its demographic statistics?

Recent history shows that growth has not occurred as forecasted in the Growth Plan.  Mr. Kevin Eby, former Planning Director for the Region of Waterloo who also once worked on the Land Needs Assessment for the Province has uncovered some very interesting and troubling stats.  For example:  York Region’s growth in population and employment from 2012 to 2019 is respectively 44% and 7% LESS than forecasted and in same period Toronto’s growth was 27 % and 138% GREATER than forecast.  Consequences of poor forecasts are significant.  Municipalities designate land for development in their Official Plan and subsequently approve developments and build infrastructure using this plan. If the growth does not occur as planned by 2051 who do you think will pay? Answer:  the taxpayers who are there.  If the Province does its job it will build transportation networks to service the expected population; who is going to pay for this?  Answer: Ontario taxpayers. And finally, land, which provides your local food, is unnecessarily consumed and pressures on the environment are increased.  On the other hand, Toronto does not build enough infrastructure to support its growth such as the relief subway line.

When I was reviewing Mr. Eby’s exhaustive analysis I was almost incredulous as to how poor the forecasts have been.  Even though I was sure he had not made an error I was comforted, so to speak, to see the validation in a York Region  report just released entitled Fiscal Stability 2020; if you decide to check it out scroll down to page 9.

The proposed amendment is not just about forecasts; it also proposes new policies for aggregate operations (wayside pits, quarries) in the Natural Heritage System of the GGH which will be more permissive, but these changes will not impact those systems in the Greenbelt.  I get no satisfaction to this special consideration for us (i.e. those who are privledged to live in the Greenbelt) as habitat of endangered species is just as important in Guelph and Barrie (2 examples of what is in the GGH but not in the Greenbelt.)  If you too are concerned about this I suggest you check out Ontario Nature’s assessment of the amendment and sign its petition. 

Finally……I am really irritated about the process for reviewing the amendment.  It was posted for review by municipalities and public on June 16 with a deadline for comments of July 31.   Those 6 weeks for review are not typical weeks.  i) The nearly twelve-week suspension of all planning applications was lifted on June 22; since then, Planning Staff are busy re-activating files etc.  ii) The public is less able to assess the proposal due to upheaval in their personal lives dues to pandemic; and with the re-activation of planning applications there are Public Planning meetings to attend.  iii) Even in “typical times” many Councils have fewer meetings in summer; hence their ability to review Staff input will be limited.  As  I do not see the urgency for this amendment I regretfully say that this reminds me of the Province’s attempt to put through Bill 66, Schedule 10; in response to that, the public did protest throughout cold January 2019  and the offending schedule of the Bill was essentially dropped although indeed many of the details have been incorporated into other Bills.

To summarize:  there are serious problems with the Amendment 1 to the Growth Plan for Greater Golden Horseshoe. There is strong evidence that the population forecasts are inaccurate for many municipalities. Extending the forecast may result in more land than necessary designated for development and more pressure on taxpayers. There are alternate forecasting models which have been more accurate. (To my mind it is ironic that the Ministry Of Finance does forecasts which have been far more accurate than the methodology used in the Growth Plan which is a market driven foreast.) The lessons of COVID-19 must be incorporated into land use planning: the shift to remote work; the importance of local food; the importance of open and natural spaces which need to be protected per the science and not not modified to enable aggregate.

2 Responses to “ “More Sprawl”

  1. Greg Locke says:

    This is one of the most informative articles I believe you have written Debbie.

    Thanks so much for doing this “deep dive”.

    I’d like to understand the other Councillors’ opinions on this, as well as Staff. Your arguments are hard to ignore.

  2. Jennifer Anstey says:

    Thanks, Deb! So appreciate these updates.

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