November 8, 2004

Ontario's Greenbelt plan adds a million more acres of protected land

Proposed legislation authorizing the establishment of a Greenbelt area in southern Ontario would provide permanent protection for a total of 1.8 million acres - an area the size of Algonquin Park - across southern Ontario. Bill 135, the proposed Greenbelt Act, 2004, would, along with a provincial Order in Council, provide legislative authority for a Greenbelt plan. The draft legislation and policy proposal have both been posted for comment on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry.

The Greenbelt area would stretch from Rice Lake to the Niagara Peninsula, with the plan adding one million new acres to the 800,000 acres in the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment that are currently protected. It will include the areas covered by the Oak Ridges Moraine conservation plan and the Niagara Escarpment plan, along with areas designated as protected under the proposed Greenbelt plan.

The legislation also includes provisions to deal with matters such as the plan amendment process, conformity of decisions under other specified acts with the Greenbelt plan, transition issues, the appointment of an advisory council, and consequential amendments to other acts. It would require a full review of the plan every ten years, in conjunction with reviews of the Oak Ridges Moraine conservation plan and the Niagara Escarpment plan. These plans would prevail in the event of a conflict between either of them and the Greenbelt plan. Comments on Bill 135 are due by November 27, 2004.

The proposed Greenbelt plan will set strict limits on urban boundaries and will protect areas not currently zoned for urban development. It will set out policies and guidelines concerning how lands can be used, including policies on:

-Environmental protection - to protect the quality of ground and surface water and to maintain essential natural connections between the Oak Ridges Moraine, Niagara Escarpment, Lake Simcoe, Lake Ontario and major river valleys;

-Agricultural protection - to protect lands that grow specialty crops, such as the Niagara Peninsula tender fruit and grape areas and the Holland Marsh;

-Infrastructure and natural resources - to provide for sustainable use of resources critical to the region's environmental, economic and growth needs;

-Recreation and tourism - to support sustainable tourism and to provide settings for sports, leisure and recreation opportunities; and

-Rural communities - to sustain the character of the countryside and promote healthy, prosperous rural communities.

The draft plan is based on the advice received from the Greenbelt Task Force and the advice of municipalities and stakeholder groups. The government will consult with the public and stakeholders in a series of meetings throughout November, and intends to have a final plan ready by December 16, 2004. Comments on the Greenbelt plan may be submitted until December 12, 2004.

The government's initiative was welcomed by environmental and other organizations. The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, a coalition of more than 60 environmental, health and community groups, said the plan includes many of its "Top 10 Greenbelt Hotspots," including the Duffins-Rouge agricultural preserve, parts of Simcoe County, North Oakville/Trafalgar Moraine, Boyd Park and the Rouge River Valley. Some hotspots appear to still be at risk, the Alliance noted, including areas that are being used for aggregate extraction.

Ontario Nature - Federation of Ontario Naturalists, an environmental non-government organization dedicated to protecting and restoring natural habitats through research, education and conservation, also praised the Greenbelt proposal.

The plan "is an important measure toward protecting vital green space in the Golden Horseshoe and ensuring the health of the province's citizens," said Ontario Nature's executive director Jim Faught. "It's a great day for nature, and the government's pledge to protect one million acres is a tremendous first step. We urge the Premier to take the necessary next step and ultimately extend the Greenbelt concept across all of southern Ontario."

"We remain concerned, though, about urban sprawl and leapfrog development and renew our call for a freeze on urban boundaries and new highways," added Gregor Beck, Ontario Nature's director of conservation and science.

The draft legislation and plan may be viewed on the EBR registry, www.ene.gov.on.ca, reference Nos AF04E0001 and PF04E0006, respectively.

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