In February 2021, the Province of Ontario announced its plan to grow the size of the Greenbelt. The Greenbelt Plan and A Place to Grow: Growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe work together to provide a framework for where and how growth should be accommodated in Southern Ontario.
On February 28, 2005, the Greenbelt Act, 2005 was passed by the Ontario government and protects nearly two million acres of farmland and environmentally sensitive areas. Over the past 15 years, the Ontario government has worked to expand the protections of the Greenbelt. In 2017, the Greenbelt protections were extended to 21 major urban river valleys and 7 coastal wetlands.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) is seeking to grow the size, and further enhance the quality of the Greenbelt. MMAH identified two areas of priority, being:
The Paris Galt Moraine is an important feature that runs roughly from Caledon in the northeast to Brantford in the southwest. It is an area of rolling, hilly terrain that is the headwaters for many rivers and streams. Comprised of sand and gravel deposits, it helps to protect and recharge the groundwater aquifers that provide the basis for a broad range of needs, including drinking water supply for many communities, sustaining local ecosystems, and growth and economic management. Moraines allow rain and snowmelt to soak into the ground more rapidly and in much greater amounts than the surrounding, less permeable areas. This provides a reliable, slowly changing supply of water called baseflow to rivers and streams.
The province is also proposing to apply the Urban River Valley designation to publicly owned lands in river valleys. The designation within the Greenbelt Plan is intended to integrate the Greenbelt into urban areas that were not part of the Greenbelt’s initial boundaries. The policy would only apply to publicly owned lands. These are often lands designated in municipal official plans as parks, open space, recreation, conservation and/ or environmental protection. There are currently 21 Urban River Valleys and associated coastal wetlands included in the Greenbelt.
The province identified six principles that will be followed for the expansion of the Greenbelt:
The Environmental Registry of Ontario’s comment period for this proposal closed on April 19, 2021.
Public comment from environmental groups have advocated for a more ambitious approach to protecting valuable land and water resources in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Municipalities throughout Southern Ontario have also been asked to provide feedback to the Provincial Consultation on Growing the Size of the Greenbelt. A number of municipalities have provided comments, ranging from concerns that further expansion of the Greenbelt into their municipality may result in economic hardship, to comments that more substantive methods of growing the size of the Greenbelt are needed, such as a watershed-based approach to identifying areas for potential inclusion. Municipalities have also expressed concern that the plan aims to protect ‘already protected’ areas, which are protected by the municipality’s Official Plan.
Dentons will continue to assess the outcome of Ontario’s Plan to Grow the Size of the Greenbelt and how the Province responds to the feedback that has been received.