March 6, 2006

Year One report card assigns "B" grade to Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt

The first year of Ontario's 1.8-million-acre Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt has been a success, although the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance says many areas still need improvement. A first-anniversary "report card" released by the Alliance gives the Ontario government an overall grade of "B," citing plans to expand and build new highways, critical natural areas still in need of protection, and uncertainty around municipal compliance with the Greenbelt Plan as issues of continuing concern.

Greenbelt Report Card: Grading Implementation and Progress in Year 1 grades the provincial government in five key areas: protecting the Top Ten Greenbelt Hotspots ("B-"); dealing with challenges from municipalities ("Incomplete"); making the Greenbelt 'greener' ("B+"); expanding and building highways ("D"); and ensuring adequate resources ("A").

"The provincial government and Halton Region have been outstanding in protecting invaluable woodlands and other natural areas in North Oakville," said Rob Burton, president of the Clear the Air Coalition, in Oakville. "Now if the province would only intervene in the Ontario Municipal Board case, we could make their grade an A+."

The Trafalgar Moraine, situated mainly in North Oakville, contains a number of provincially significant wetlands and is the source of Oakville's six creeks. The town of Oakville has been trying to reduce the 940-hectare natural heritage system designated by the three levels of government, and the case for creating a secondary plan for the lands in North Oakville is currently before the OMB.

Of the Top Ten Greenbelt Hotspots first listed by the Alliance in April 2004, six receive a passing grade, two get a failing one and two are graded "Incomplete." Boyd Park, in Vaughan, gets the only "A+" thanks to a recent Ontario government decision stopping a highway that would have cut through the park. Rouge Park North receives a "B" as one of North America's largest natural environment parks in an urban setting. The park is not yet complete however, says the report, and needs several more key pieces of land in order to become a truly thriving ecosystem.

The proposed North Leslie development, in Richmond Hill, gets an "F" as the government has protected only half of the area deemed environmentally significant, while a "D" grade is assigned to continuing proposals to expand or build highways that would cut through sections of the Greenbelt.

An "Incomplete" grade goes to Simcoe County because the report says it is too early to judge recent steps taken by the Ontario government to protect the area from poorly planned development.

The report outlines areas for improvement in the coming year, including a proposal that the government explore the economic benefits of the Greenbelt. In British Columbia, notes the Alliance, farmers within the protected Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) pay lower taxes than those whose properties lie outside the ALR boundary. This incentive has made a positive contribution to the ALR.

"A large, bold conservation initiative such as the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt is bound to suffer a few bumps on the road, especially in its first year," Wendy Francis, Ontario Nature's director of conservation and science, observed. "However, overall, the early results are positive. The Greenbelt is not only starting to have an impact on the ground, but also is serving as a great learning experience for green space-first land use planning across Ontario."

The Greenbelt Report Card may be viewed on the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance Web site, www.greenbelt.ca. The Alliance is a multi-stakeholder coalition of more than 75 organizations who share a common vision for protecting and expanding the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt.

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