by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will release final recommendations later this fall concerning a two-year review of its land use planning policy statement.
But first the ministry will enable people to comment on draft recommendations to the Provincial Policy Statement until Nov. 23.
Leaders from the province’s general farm organizations say they submitted their ideas during the initial review but will also be poring over the draft recommendations, released this week by the ministry, and submitting comments.
Two changes suggested for inclusion in the Provincial Policy Statement, the government’s document on land use planning policies, are to designate agricultural areas in municipalities’ official plans and to mitigate the impacts of non-farm development on surrounding farmland.
The municipal affairs ministry website says the policy statement provides direction for the province on matters related to land use planning. Municipalities use the statement to develop their official plans and make decisions on other planning matters.
The regulations for the Planning Act state all decisions affecting land use planning matters shall be consistent with the policy statement.
The regulations also stipulate the policy statement, in effect since March 2005, must be reviewed every five years. The current review began in March 2010.
Municipal affairs and housing ministry spokesperson May Nazar says by email “the draft policies build upon the existing policy framework of the Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 and are meant to provide clearer direction in a number of critical areas,” including planning for healthy communities, supporting the economy, protecting the environment and resources and recognizing Aboriginal interests.”
Agriculture ministry spokesperson Susan Murray says by email the policy statement is one of the ways Ontario ensures its best farmlands remain available for agricultural production. The ministry will continue to work closely with the housing ministry as the new policy statement is developed to ensure that remains a priority.
But Mark Wales, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says the province needs to strengthen provisions in its statement to preserve Class 1 to Class 4 farmland. “First and foremost, that’s important.”
The federation also wants to ensure the statement is strengthened when it comes to preserving specialty and unique soil types. Those soils should be preserved “because once you remove them, they’re gone forever,” Wales says.
One change the National Farmers Union in Ontario has suggested, and that is included in the draft policies, is permitting additional uses on farms and providing flexibility for agricultural uses.
Coordinator Ann Slater says while she hasn’t yet read the draft proposals the province needs to make it easier for farmers to do on-farm processing and other similar small-scale projects. Partly because of provincial planning rules, some farmers face challenges when they want to set up on-farm processing.
NFU also suggested the revised policy statement contain stronger protection of farmland over other uses, such as aggregate projects. “Along with protecting the farmland you need to preserve farmers,” she says, noting “we need to make sure farms can be economically viable so farmers can stay on their farms.”
Slater says they have been concerned that the province has been giving priority to aggregate proposals over farmland. “We need to look at other ways to get aggregate that doesn’t necessary give” those projects priority over agricultural land.
The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario also had a recommendation on aggregate extraction as part of the initial review. It suggested that aggregate extraction not be allowed unless complete agricultural rehabilitation is possible in specialty crop areas. In a written document outlining its recommendations, Christian Farmers says the current provincial guideline doesn’t place enough strength in protecting specialty crop areas and prime farmland with regards to aggregate uses.
Interim general manager Nathan Stevens says he too hasn’t yet reviewed the draft policies but Christian Farmers will be submitting comments as part of these consultations.
Another revision Christian Farmers suggested to the section on healthy, livable and safe communities is for the province to put priority on creating and maintaining regional food baskets in close proximity to settlement areas.
Pat Vanini, executive director of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, says when it commented during the initial review, the association provided one set of overall comments rather than separating rural, urban or regional needs. The four broad areas the association flagged for consideration include strong policy support through the provincial statement for employment and economic growth, greater recognition of regional differences, a need for stronger support for healthy communities, and protecting and managing environmental resources.
Specifically on agriculture, the association noted in regions with limited or no growth pressures there needs to be broader definitions to maintain farming and other agricultural areas in those locations.
“There was also recognition there is loss of woodlots in rural Ontario, certainly it’s becoming a concern in southern Ontario and that could possibly be addressed through some of the conservation policy pieces,” Vanini says. BF