Ontario’s new proposed Provincial Planning Statement (PPS) will have negative impacts on rural land use and farming operations, say planning experts and agricultural organizations.
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A joint statement released May 19 by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, National Farmers Union – Ontario and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario urges farmers to tell their local MPPs that they oppose the PPS and “the government should abandon its proposal to allow for the severing of farmland parcels”.
Why it matters: The Proposed Planning Statement aims to make housing development easier for the Ontario government, and could make make establishing housing within prime agricultural lands much easier.
The Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT) held a webinar on the PPS May 17 to discuss what implications the legislation could have for Ontario agriculture.
Traditionally, zoning is a municipal purview, but the PPS would take power out of the hands of municipalities, requiring them to permit up to three lot severances on prime agricultural land.
It represents a shift from current lot creation policies introduced in 2020, which discourage lot creation of any kind in prime agricultural areas.
The PPS is expected to come into effect this fall. Integrated with the 2020 Growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, it aims to create 1.5 million homes in Ontario within the next 10 years.
But some Ontarians are saying that land being allocated for housing will mean land being taken away from agriculture.
“Once farmland is developed, it is gone forever,” said OFT’s Margaret Walton in an introductory statement. “Farmland is a non-renewable resource, vital to our local food supply.”
Dr. Wayne Caldwell, professor of Rural Planning and Development at the University of Guelph spoke about the negative long-term effects of the lot creation policy.
Related: How will municipalities handle housing?
Caldwell estimated that with the policy changes, at least 500,000 acres of land in Ontario could be taken out of agricultural production.
“We have a limited amount of agricultural land in Ontario, and we’re already losing it to more planned urban expansions, 319 acres of farmland every day,” Caldwell said. “We are truly locking ourselves into a pattern that would be absolutely contrary, in my view, to the best interests of agriculture.”
He said that with the PPS potentially allowing up to 30 new residential lots on a concession block and no minimum distance separation, there will be very little room for growth in the livestock sector.
“Indeed, we should ask the question ‘is this the beginning of the end for animal agriculture in Ontario?’”
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Caldwell also said he thought that modern farm technology and practices may not mix well with residential areas. He cited drones and bird bangers as examples of farming technology that could be disruptive to residents.
He said the concerns were not just limited to agriculture; the PPS could have an impact on transportation in rural areas as well.
“Given two sides of a provincial highway and five farms on each side, this could result in up to thirty requests for new entrance permits in a concession road frontage per one and a quarter mile.”
Dr. Pam Duesling of Brant County Development Services said that the vague language used in the PPS is a problem, particularly in policy 4.3.3, which deals with lot creation and adjustments in “prime agricultural areas”.
“Right off the bat, I’m a bit confused by the wording of this policy,” Duesling said. “My question to the province is, are you allowing new lots on prime agricultural lands, or on all agricultural lands? This should really be clarified.”
She had similar criticism for the section allowing new residential lots to be created from lots used principally for agriculture.
“Neither farm (nor) agriculture are defined in the new Provincial Planning Statement- but agricultural uses is,” she said. “My questions to the province here are, what is meant by ‘agriculture is the principal use of the existing lot?’”
“Does this mean that all parcels that are designated agriculturally or zoned agriculturally meet the definition of agricultural uses? Or is it simply lots that have an agricultural use on them?”
If the latter, Duesling said that this could apply to something as simple as a two-acre lot with a garden or beehive on it.
She said that this policy leaves itself open to exploitation.
“I’ve worked in rural planning long enough to know that many, many property owners will be stretching the definition of agricultural uses,” she said, “the definition of agricultural uses needs to be defined and clarified in the context of severances.”
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) called for the provincial government to take pause on the PPS in a May 18 joint statement with 11 other Ontario agricultural organizations, saying that it will “weaken local farmland protection.”
“We do not support policies that will increase residential lot creation in prime agricultural areas or in rural areas that are actively farmed,” the statement read. “Ontario boasts some of Canada’s richest and most fertile farmland and these policy changes put the sustainability of that land and the food system it provides at great risk.”
The joint statement mentioned “fragmentation of the agricultural land base, increased conflicts between neighbouring land uses, risk of inflating farmland prices and increasing costs to municipalities” as potential consequences of the PPS.
The OFT closed the webinar by encouraging attendees to take action by contacting their MPP to express concerns about the PPS and urging others to do so as well.