Environmental advocates criticize Ford’s plan to build housing on Greenbelt

A new proposal to use Greenbelt land for additional housing developments has environmental groups concerned over what this could mean for the future of the protected space. Melissa Nakhavoly has more.

By Melissa Nakhavoly

Environmental advocates are strongly condemning the Ford government’s plan to build homes on protected Greenbelt land, calling it a bad precedent to set.

The lack of homes available in the GTA has contributed to rising housing prices and the housing crisis at large. The plan from the provincial government would build 50,000 homes on Greenbelt land, despite an election promise not to touch the space.

The land has been protected from development by legislation since 2005.

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said the proposals “will support our municipal partners’ plans for responsible growth.”

Premier Doug Ford said Monday that Ontario needs over 300,000 people to fill empty jobs in the economy.

“Where are we going to put 300,000 people a year, almost a million people in three years, because of the inaction of previous governments that didn’t want to take the bold steps to get housing built?” he asked.

“We’re in an unprecedented time when it comes to housing,” Ford said.

“We have a housing crisis today that we didn’t have four years ago.”

Matti Siemiatycki, the Canada Research Chair in Infrastructure Planning and Finance at the University of Toronto, calls it “a bad plan and a worse precedent.”

“[The Greenbelt] protects waterways. It protects woodlands and agricultural lands, which are important to food security, so there’s all sort of aspects of the Greenbelt that are critical to the functioning of this region,” explained Siemiatycki.

“To start chipping away at it with residential development will be damaging in the short term for that area and unnecessary.”

The province plans to launch a 30-day consultation on removing about 7,400 acres in 15 different areas from the Greenbelt. Siemiatycki said it’s an unnecessary move, adding there is no lack of space in Ontario to be building.

“We recently did a study at the infrastructure institute looking at just six major landholders with retail spaces like big grocery stores and big box stores. And you can build 60,000 housing units just on their properties alone, on their portfolios, and that’s just those six.”

Phil Pothen, Ontario Environmental Program Manager, said housing advocates have also voiced concerns about this plan.

“Housing advocates made it clear that this is actually going to mean fewer homes in the neighbourhoods where homes are needed,” said Pothen.

While taking space from the existing Greenbelt, the government is also proposing to add 9,400 acres to different areas, making the overall footprint of the Greenbelt 2,000 acres larger.

But advocates say it’s not that simple.

“Once we open the door for a request to remove any nontrivial part of the land from the green belt protection, we really destroyed the whole greenbelt system. The prices of land, agricultural prices become development prices so the farmer can’t afford the land anymore,” said Pothen.

If the plan goes through, landowners will be expected to develop housing plans immediately, with construction beginning no later than 2025.

With files from Lucas Casaletto

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