Queen’s Park is obliged to pay close attention when one of its own top planners warns that a provincial strategy meant to reduce urban sprawl and protect the environment will, in fact, do the opposite. That’s what’s in store for the Simcoe region, north of the GTA, if Ontario proceeds with its flawed intentions, according to Victor Doyle, manager of community planning at the ministry of municipal affairs.
Tellingly, this senior civil servant made his views known as a “private citizen,” with a written response to the province’s call for public input on the strategic growth plan for Simcoe.
The Simcoe growth plan is the responsibility of the ministry of infrastructure, not municipal affairs. One can only speculate on how far communications between these two branches of government have deteriorated when a veteran bureaucrat feels it necessary to go outside the system in order to be heard.
Doyle’s concerns, summarized in a 15-page presentation, deserve consideration before the government proceeds with its “growth vision” for the Simcoe area.
His most compelling argument against the new development planned in open spaces along Highway 400, roughly between Barrie and the Holland Marsh, is that it’s simply not needed. According to Doyle, there’s plenty of space for industrial and other uses within the Greater Toronto Area, where about 34,000 hectares of open land have already been approved for urbanization. Surely it makes sense to develop this space before encroaching on the more remote greenfields of the Simcoe region.
As well, Doyle points out that Lake Simcoe has limited capacity to assimilate waste water, including the urban runoff that’s inevitable with large expanses of paved space. That means removing sewage from planned developments would likely require pipeline construction on a massive and enormously expensive scale. Simcoe County lacks the legislative authority and staff needed to run sewer and water systems of such size, notes Doyle. Prime farmland would be lost to urbanization “without any justified need.” And Highway 400 would become even more clogged with traffic than it is now, especially since long-term plans for public transit don’t include major improvements to service in Simcoe County.
The cumulative effect of all this would be to continue the pattern of urban sprawl beyond the greenbelt and along Highway 400, in direct contravention of the province’s planning goals, concludes Doyle. “There is absolutely no reason, or rush, to consider any further urban expansions, or new development areas, in south Simcoe County.”
There are, of course, arguments on the other side, from both the development industry and the ministry of infrastructure. But before locking the province into a scheme that could induce more sprawl, the government would be well-advised to heed Doyle’s warnings and give the Simcoe growth plan a serious second look.