In the works for many months, in late October 2004 the Ontario government introduced legislation enabling the creation of a Greenbelt Plan for an area totaling 1.8 million acres (720,000 hectares). It covers the area of the existing Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, the existing Niagara Escarpment Plan, and one million acres newly protected from urban sprawl. The new lands are in the Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron watersheds, in the so-called “Golden Horseshoe” at the western end of Lake Ontario, north and west of Toronto and Hamilton.
This is a part of Ontario with some of the best farmland in all of Canada, dwindling woodlands and wetlands, and intense urban development pressure. With some exceptions, no development or site alteration will be permitted within key hydrologic features or key natural heritage features within the Natural Heritage System. Included in “key hydrologic features” are streams, natural lakes/shorelines, seepage areas and springs, and wetlands. Included in “key natural heritage features” are significant habitat of endangered, threatened and provincially rare species, fish habitat, wetlands, life science areas of natural and scientific interest (ANSIs), significant valleylands, and some other important areas.
Further details about the Greenbelt Plan, including maps, are available at www.greenbelt.ontario.ca
Environmental organizations applaud the government’s move in releasing the draft Greenbelt Plan and the draft Greenbelt Act (Bill 135). The bill is expected to be passed by the Legislature before the Christmas break.The Greenbelt Plan may pass by that time as well, at the end of the one-year urban boundary freeze the government placed on Greenbelt lands. Establishment of the Greenbelt Plan has been rather hurried, and the while the Plan may not actually be approved until early 2005, it will be retroactive to December 16, 2004.
While generally positive about the draft Greenbelt Plan, environmental organizations are concerned that because it covers only a small part of southern Ontario, it will encourage developers to “leapfrog” over the Greenbelt and continue their sprawling habits elsewhere. Ontario Nature has, for the past year, called for a southern-Ontario-wide “greenway” – environment- first land use planning that protects natural core areas and connecting natural corridors from urban encroachment. If all of southern Ontario were covered with Greenbelt-style planning, then there would be no place for developers to leapfrog to. There is enough land in the Golden Horseshoe already approved for urban development to accommodate anticipated population growth for 30 years or more, negating the need to sprawl into our precious wetlands,woodlands and farmlands.