Land speculation has shaped the landscape around the GTA and in Simcoe County.
In late August I wrote about how a lack of truly affordable housing in the GTA drives sprawl in surrounding rural areas. Land speculation, too, has shaped the landscape around the GTA and in Simcoe County.
When the Ontario government released the Growth Plan
and the Greenbelt Plan
in 2005 and 2006, some potentially developable lands were effectively frozen either by the Greenbelt’s restrictive policies, or by the province’s population and employment projections that direct regional plans. But the province knew that eventually new lands would need to be developed, and that infilling had limits, especially in rural areas. So they left a so-called “whitebelt” of undeveloped land between the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton (GTAH) and the Greenbelt. Developers spread rumours that there isn’t enough developable land in the GTAH and the whitebelt, and that we need to leapfrog the Greenbelt and build on agricultural land in Simcoe County, for example. The Ontario government’s 5 -Year Implementation Update
on its Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe
should shatter that myth. The Update finds that there is plenty of room to grow in the GTAH: only 15 – 20% of the whitebelt will be needed to accommodate projected growth to 2031.
Despite the lack of evidence that we need to leapfrog the Greenbelt and sprawl in Simcoe County, land speculators’ practice of buying cheap farm land and getting it zoned for development has been highly successful, particularly in smaller towns. In Simcoe County, north of the Greenbelt, successful land speculation resulted in municipal approvals for a total population of 1,000,000 in Simcoe County, Barrie and Orillia by 2031, while the province’s population estimate is 667,000. The population of that area was just 437,100 in 2006. Even today, October 18th
, in reference to a proposed 10,000 unit, new complete community, The Barrie Examiner asks
, why would “Simcoe County and Springwater Township councils approve a proposed Midhurst development which runs contrary to provincial planning policy?”
Adding so many people to a rural county in 20 years hardly seems possible, let alone sustainable. Having worked as an activist there for close to 10 years, I know the support for this level of growth is not widespread.
Thankfully the Province is trying to reign in an oversupply of land approved for development in Simcoe County with the controversial “Amendment 1”
to the Growth Plan
. Naturally many developers and pro-growth municipalities dislike this restraint. Environmentalists, on the other hand, tend to support higher housing densities
in existing towns to preserve greenspace and improve community sustainability. In response to the widely differing opinions regarding Amendment 1 to the Growth Plan,
the province effectively extended their consultation period and avoided this controversy in the run up to the October 6th
election. The province appointed a “Provincial Development Facilitator” (PDF) to address:
- The allocation of the population and employment forecasts [in each lower-tier municipality];
- approaches to managing the oversupply of land available for growth; and,
- alternative intensification targets and designated greenfield area density targets for each lower-tier municipality within the County of Simcoe that reflect the character of the communities, while ensuring the creation of more compact, mixed-use communities.
On November 1st, the “Provincial Development Facilitator” Paula Dill will make confidential recommendations to the Minister of Infrastructure. Then the Minister will recommend how to proceed with population allocations and densities in Simcoe County. The development deadlock will be lifted.
We must acknowledge the battle we have lost: although there is no evidence that we needed to leapfrog the Greenbelt and build extensively in Simcoe County, it will happen. And most of the new development in Simcoe County will continue to be on greenfields.
Terms of Reference for the PDF. https://www.placestogrow.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=212&Itemid=15