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Niagara's Conservation Authority worried about Ford’s development bill

If the provincial government passes the More Homes Built Faster Act, there could be sweeping changes to planning in Ontario
2021-03-24 Sidewalk Closed1

More political bodies have joined the chorus of concern against the planned provincial development bill.

Bill 23, or the More Homes Built Faster Act, is currently under review in the provincial parliament, and could drastically change the way development is handled in Ontario.

Last week, the Town of Lincoln expressed concerns about some of the implications of the act, such as the downloading of responsibilities to lower-tier municipalities and changes to the Ontario Land Tribunal procedures.

Now, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) and West Lincoln have also expressed concerns, especially in terms of the role the conservation authorities (CAs) play in supporting lower-tier municipalities.

Chandra Sharma, chief administrative officer at NPCA, said one of the main proposals in the bill is to remove different regulations that conservation authorities use to undertake their planning and permitting activities.

However, Sharma and the NPCA are worried this could mean the expertise conservation authorities bring to the development process could be lost.

One example is the expertise CAs have regarding the watersheds, which are unique to every region. This working knowledge has been built up over decades and plays a valuable role in protecting watersheds across the province.

This prevents the same destructive flooding as seen in Alberta and British Columbia, which Sharma said do not have the floodplain management model as in Ontario.

The responsibilities for thinking about implications on conservation aspects like the watershed could be downloaded to lower-tier municipalities, which do not have the same expertise.

“I don't know how municipalities can ramp up that expertise that fast,” said Sharma.

It could also lead to fragmented decision-making, which could hypothetically lead to friction between municipalities upstream and downstream of each other.

Sharma and the NPCA are recommending to the province that municipalities should still be able to sign memorandums of understanding for planning purposes, which Sharma fears the bill could scrap.

That change would erode the role CAs play in providing expert advice in the development process, and will place a higher burden on municipalities.

In the end, Sharma said the CAs always played an important role in developing houses and meeting provincial targets while protecting conservation.

“We all have a common interest in providing the best quality of life and affordable housing to keep the best talent and the next generation in Niagara,” she said. “Conservation authorities have always been part of the solution to deliver and deliver on provincial priorities.”

Brian Treble, director of planning and building at the township of West Lincoln, said the role of the region and the CAs in the planning process was vital.

“We will continue to need the region and conservation authority to support lower tier planning,” he said.

He also said the bill could radically alter the planning process but the impact was not fully understood.

“We know that change is needed to streamline planning approvals in order to get more housing built faster,” he said. “However, the full impact of Bill 23 is not yet understood and, if approved, could result in dramatic changes.

“My concern is that putting the planning approvals process into chaos will not speed up approvals in the short term. I am confident that West Lincoln and our planning team are up to whatever challenges are in the final approval.”

Chris Pickles is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Niagara This Week. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.