Conservation authorities are complaining about the province curbing the comments they can make to municipalities as they review applications for housing projects.
Conservation Ontario said the government of Premier Doug Ford “is proposing agreements with conservation authorities that prevent municipalities from entering into agreements with conservation authorities to review planning applications on their behalf, proposes exemptions from natural hazard permits for select municipalities where Planning Act approvals are in place, remove ‘conservation of lands’ and ‘pollution’ as considerations in permit decisions, to put a freeze on development fees and to possibly tap into conservation lands to support housing.
“We need to make sure mechanisms are still in place to ensure that we balance growth with a healthy environment,” said Angela Coleman, general manager of Conservation Ontario which represents Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities.
Coleman said conservation authorities have been co-operating by speeding up reviews of housing developments and said conservation authorities are not a barrier to growth.
She said municipalities need to continue to be able to enter into agreements with conservation authorities for advisory services and conservation authorities need to retain responsibility for natural hazard approvals.
Conservation authorities own approximately 147,000 hectares of land which are made up of important natural systems and biodiversity such as wetlands, forests, moraines, and ecologically sensitive lands. These lands typically have clear functions and purpose.
Conservation authority lands are often located in floodplains and help to protect against flooding and erosion. They offer trails and other outdoor amenities that contribute to public well-being and they protect important sources of drinking water and biodiversity. They also contribute to climate change adaptation measures by capturing emissions, cooling temperatures and protecting water quality.
“Regardless of the source of funding for the lands, clear policies are needed to protect these locally significant conservation lands and land use should only be considered for housing in exceptional circumstances,” Coleman said.
“The plan review process by conservation authorities ensures the protection of the watershed-based approach and enables the connections to be made between flood control, wetlands and other green infrastructure or natural cover, thus ensuring safe development”, Coleman said.
Conservation Ontario is calling for the re-establishment of the Multi-stakeholder Conservation Authority Working Group which is comprised of members from conservation authorities, municipalities, development sector and agriculture. The Working Group helped guide the Province in its implementation of the last round of changes to the Act.
In terms of another provincial proposal to freeze conservation authority development fees, Coleman said that ‘development needs to pay for development’. Freezing these fees just creates a backlog of costs that will eventually need to be addressed.