In 2015, Ontario’s Greenbelt turns ten. This anniversary triggers a formal review by the Provincial government.
Our Greenbelt is the largest and most robust in the world, permanently protecting an extensive area of productive farmland and vital natural features that provide food, clean air and clean water. Here at home, it is viewed as a watershed land-use policy that is turning the tide on sprawl and sustaining a high quality of life for residents in the rapidly urbanizing Toronto region
This month, Niagara, the Greenbelt’s most westerly region, begins a community process to widely discuss the outcomes and opportunities arising locally from Greenbelt protection. Through February to May they are hosting focus groups and interviews with the agricultural and environmental communities, development industry, tourism, and municipal staff and elected officials.
Niagara’s perspective will, of course, be based on its own circumstances and experiences. However, as a community strongly tied to its agricultural economy (worth $1.8 billion in 2005) and the dramatic rise of the Niagara Escarpment as its backdrop, we will be listening to their thoughts what improvements or policy refinements make sense across the Greenbelt. We also expect the discussion to go beyond land uses governed by the Greenbelt and tackle the larger issues of farm viability and the local economy - areas the Foundation has invested in with a heavy emphasis in Niagara.
Most recently, our agriculture investments include implementation support for the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Action Plan, which currently, is focusing on infrastructure needs; additional funding to the Environmental Farm Plan to assist farm businesses in reducing their energy needs and costs; and, a New Product Program enabling farmers to access smaller grants or "microgrants" to produce new products to sell at local farmers’ markets.
Our investments in tourism led Niagara to become an incubator for new projects to increase cycle tourism. The Greenbelt Express Bike Train brings weekend tourists from Toronto, and the Welcome Cyclist Network promotes businesses to attract visiting cyclists to stay longer and return in the future. Both these initiatives have spread throughout the Greenbelt. The Niagara Greenbelt Gateway website attracts visitors to the Region’s beautiful and productive countryside, promoting hikes along the Escarpment and shopping at local farms.
As happened during the creation of the Greenbelt, high public interest and engagement is expected in the 2015 Review. We will do what we can to encourage it as the Greenbelt is too important to ignore by either rural or urban residents.
Niagara’s Integrated Community Planning division will present a final report to Regional Council for endorsement by the end of the year, followed by a formal submission to the province in early 2014.
For more information: http://bit.ly/Z3G2SG
-Shelley Petrie, Program Director