Green spaces help clean our air, filter our water and
provide a natural beauty to complement our urban environment.
BY GRANT CAMERON
Green spaces help clean our air, filter our water and provide a natural beauty to complement our urban environment.
But green spaces in the Golden Horseshoe are now under threat from urban sprawl, new construction development and population growth.
Already the most populous region in Canada, tens of thousands of people still relocate to the Golden Horseshoe annually.
The population is expected to rise to 11 million by 2031. That’s another four million people in 30 years.
Recently, a Greenbelt Task Force appointed by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, examined how government should deal with the anticipated growth, while ensuring protection of green space in the Golden Horseshoe.
In a lengthy report called Toward a Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt, the task force made a number of recommendations that provide the government the foundation upon which to develop a draft plan for creating a permanent greenbelt.
The government is expected to release its detailed draft plan to establish a permanent greenbelt before the end of the year.
The task force said setting up permanent greenbelt protection in the Golden Horseshoe will be a “challenging exercise in balancing interests” and it recommended that the greenbelt and growth management initiatives proceed simultaneously.
To start, the task force says the province must define the greenbelt and decide what lands are going to be included in the protected area.
Then, the province must develop a growth plan that redirects development away from the greenbelt.
The task force says the greenbelt should create a magnificent legacy for Ontarians by preserving and enhancing the province’s natural heritage, agriculture, natural resources, and rich cultural heritage.
“It should knit together the Golden Horseshoe’s environmentally sensitive natural systems, including areas that now enjoy legislated protection, such as those in the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine,” the task force said.
“Despite their location next to a burgeoning metropolis, we have an amazing and robust array of important and significant natural features and systems that merit protection.”
The task force was careful not to wade into debate over whether or not specific pieces of property belong in the greenbelt, but it did note that certain lands are so well known for their agricultural significance —notably the tender fruit and grape lands in Niagara, Hamilton and the Holland March—that they should be included.
“There is a myriad of factors to consider and interests to balance when drawing the lines on the map,” the task force said.
“Fundamentally, we believe that good science and sound economics will be vital to maintaining the integrity of the greenbelt. Criteria must be developed to prioritize land uses within the designated area.”
To accomplish that, the task force recommended that the province undertake a multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach to defining the Greenbelt.
“No single ministry can adequately address all the relevant considerations,” the task force said.
Furthermore, the task force noted, there is a great deal of knowledge that rests at the local level with municipalities, conservation authorities and non-governmental organizations that will prove essential when drawing the lines that will define greenbelt lands.
“We believe there are other lands within the study area that should be included in the greenbelt. lands that are already permanently protected by easements and those owned by charitable trusts, for example, are appropriate for inclusion. “Similarly, lands that the province has expressed an intention to protect, such as lands that have been proposed as additions to the Niagara Escarpment Plan, should form part of the greenbelt.”
Meanwhile, the task force said, lands that are publicly owned are also important to consider for greenbelt protection.
The task force acknowledged that some new infrastructure is likely to locate within the greenbelt, but it should be avoided wherever possible.
Once the work of defining a permanent greenbelt is done, the task force said the government must develop a policy and fiscal framework that ensures the permanence of the greenbelt.
Members of the task force agreed unanimously that a growth plan that focuses and redirects urban development away from protected areas must be implemented simultaneously if the greenbelt is to work.
According to the task force, a discussion paper released by the government in July called Places to Grow represents that complementary plan.
“These two plans must work hand in glove, as each will affect the other. To ensure the permanence of greenbelt protection and the economic success of the growth plan, a vision for growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe beyond the next 27 years is suggested.”
Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Gerretsen said the recommendations of the task force would be instrumental in crafting the government’s plan for permanent greenbelt protection.
“These recommendations bring us closer to the vision we have for a Golden Horseshoe greenbelt, where protecting greenspace and containing sprawl will make our communities stronger and enhance our quality of life.”
Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac, chair of the task force, said after six months of consultations it was clear that Ontarians are passionate about their communities.
“We believe that our recommendations will provide the government with the direction it needs to develop a definitive greenbelt plan that will create livable communities and establish a permanent legacy for protecting the environment across the Golden Horseshoe region for generations to come.”