Growth in rural communities

One further category of land that needs to be considered when accommodating growth are the rural settlement areas in the GGH. Rural settlement areas typically include small towns, villages, and hamlets that have limited municipal services and are not intended to be a focus of growth or intensification; a Built Boundary/Built-Up Area is not defined for these settlements. Currently it is unclear how these settlements are to be treated under the Growth Plan. The Growth Plan states that “where a settlement area does not have a built boundary, the entire settlement is considered Designated Greenfield Area,”[1] however a supporting implementation document released by the Minister states that “the built boundary consists of delineated built-up areas and undelineated built-up areas.”[2] It is unclear if the rural settlement areas contribute to meeting the overall intensification target or are considered designated greenfield areas.

Through the recent review of official plans to conform to the Growth Plan, some municipalities have expanded the boundaries of rural settlement areas, which involved a settlement boundary expansion and the designation of land as New Rural Settlement Areas; however, most remain unchanged. Figure 3.14 indicates the location of the 403 rural settlement areas in the GGH.

Figure 3.14: Location of rural settlement areas

Table 3.12 summarizes the quantity of rural settlement land in the GGH and in the Inner and Outer Rings. Most (78%) of the rural settlement area land is located in the Outer Ring and 22% is located in the Inner Ring.

Table 3.12: Cumulative total of rural settlement areas


Inner Ring

Outer Ring


Rural Settlement Area (as of 2006)1

10,600 ha


46,000 ha

New Rural Settlement Area (added since 2006)1

0 ha*


1,900 ha

Total Area

10,600 ha


47,900 ha

1 Calculated by the Neptis Foundation as determined through the review of municipal official plans, official plan amendments, and other planning documents; see Appendix A for methodology, Appendix B for sources, and Appendix C for the land area inventory by municipality.
*The Inner Ring added less than 50 hectares of new rural settlement area since 2006. 


The amount of land included in the rural settlement areas is not insignificant: almost 48,000 hectares across the entire GGH. It is not known how much of the rural settlement areas were developed as of 2006.

If the total land area designated for rural settlement is combined with the total amount of  land designated for urban  settlement, the Inner and Outer Rings. Figure 3.15 indicates the differences between the Inner and Outer Rings. In the Outer Ring, rural settlement areas represent almost 20% of the settlement land area, while in the Inner Ring they represent less than 5%. One out of every five hectares of land designated for settlement uses in the Outer Ring is located in a rural community that may not have both municipal piped water and sewer services.

Figure 3.15: Comparison of land area designated as urban or rural settlement areas, Inner and Outer Ring

[1] Definition of Designated Greenfield Area from the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006, Office Consolidation, January 2012, Section 6.
[2] Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal, Built Boundary for the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006 (2008).