By: Felix Whitton, Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation
This week the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance (OGA), a Greenbelt watchdog that represents 120 organizations, released a map highlighting more than 200 requests to take land out of the Greenbelt.
These requests cover an area almost three times the size of Rouge Park, or equivalent to 70 average-sized Greenbelt farms. Most of them are on prime farmland, but many are in sensitive headwater areas that supply water to residents downstream in cities like Toronto, Mississauga, and Hamilton.
These requests are just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that more than 600 requests have been made to the province to remove land from the Greenbelt.
A whopping two thirds of the requests are in York Region, home to the Oak Ridges Moraine and the source of the Don, Humber and Rouge Rivers that flow through Toronto.
Sony Rai, the director of Sustainable Vaughan, said of the requests:
“It would be catastrophic for the province to consider any changes to the Greenbelt at this point. Parceling off each of these lands … would render the Greenbelt meaningless.”
He’s right. One only needs to look to British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) to see what happens when you have a system where anyone can apply, at any time, to remove land.
The ALR was created in 1973 to protect farmland around Vancouver. Unlike the Greenbelt, the ALR allows applications to remove land. The Commission responsible for the ALR has received almost 40,000 applications since its creation. While some land has been added, this has tended to be less productive farmland in the north of BC, while sprawl has eaten up the best farmland in the south.
Fortunately, there seems to be little appetite to allow this to happen in Ontario. There is more than enough land to accommodate future growth – enough to last until beyond 2050 at present rates. And rates of population growth and outward urban expansion are both slowing, further reducing the need for land.
If this summer’s record drought highlights anything, it is the urgent need to prepare for climate change. One way to do this is grow the Greenbelt into vulnerable water features, such as the very headwaters currently under pressure from developers.
Send a letter to Premier Wynne and Minister of Municipal Affairs Mauro, asking them to keep the Greenbelt off-limits to sprawl from developers.