The big picture

What has the Growth Plan achieved?

This research has found that under the policies of the Growth Plan, an additional 19,100 hectares in the Greater Golden Horseshoe have been designated for urban development, in addition to the 88,000 hectares that were designated for development before the Growth Plan was introduced in 2006. In total, 107,100 hectares (1,071 square km) are planned to be urbanized by 2031.

By a remarkable coincidence, the 1,071-square-km figure (an area almost double the area of the City of Toronto) is identical to that in the conclusion of a 2002 study that forecast the extent of urbanization in the Toronto-Related Region between 2000 and 2031.

That 2002 study differs in many important ways from the research conducted for this report. It was “not a planning study but rather a ‘What if’ assessment of the urban structure and major infrastructure implications 30 years from now under particular assumptions.”[1] The study focused on a slightly smaller land area, omitting some of the rural outlying areas that are included in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (see Figure 4.1). It used remote sensing techniques to determine the boundaries of the built-up area. The population and employment forecasts were lower than those used for the Growth Plan. It was based on straight-line forecasts for demographic change, employment growth, land and development economics, and consumer preferences. It cannot in any way be considered an “apples-to-apples” comparison.

Nevertheless, what is striking is the response to the study’s finding that under current or “business-as-usual” development patterns, an area almost twice the size of the City of Toronto would be urbanized between 2000 and 2031. The 1,071-sq-km figure concerned planners and decision makers alike, and was among the motivators for creating the Growth Plan in the first place. The Province cited the study in background documents prepared as the Growth Plan was being developed. To quote from A Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, a discussion paper published by the Government of Ontario in 2004:

If we continue to consume land for urban development at the rate we have been for the past three decades, we will jeopardize the financial, social and environmental factors that make the region so attractive to new residents and new economic growth. Business-as-usual development will consume 1,000 sq km [sic] of primarily agricultural land by 2031, an area twice the size of Toronto.[2]

And yet, as this report shows, what was considered an unacceptable level of urbanization for the region in 2004 has now become entrenched in municipal official plans.

Figure 4.1: Comparison between the BAU study area and the Greater Golden Horseshoe growth plan area

In fact, the BAU study estimated that 106,900 hectares would be urbanized between 2000 and 2031, for a total of 343,900 urbanized hectares in its study area. The amount of land proposed for new growth under the Growth Plan is 107,100 hectares. If that number is adjusted to reflect the smaller study area used in the Business-as-Usual study, the total is 99,600 hectares (see Table 4.1).

Table 4.2 compares the population and employment forecasts under the Growth Plan and compares them with those used in the Business-as-Usual study to provide a figure for gross density across the region. Although the comparison is not exact, it is interesting to note that under the Growth Plan, gross densities are not expected to change very much, whereas the Business-as-Usual study assumed a gradual increase in densities over time, despite its straight-line projections about growth, development patterns, and consumer preferences.

Table 4.1: Comparison of urbanized extent under the Growth Plan and in the Business-as-Usual study

 

Growth Plan

(GGH)

Growth Plan, adjusted for the smaller study area

BAU Study

Built-Up Area (as of 2006)

329,800 ha1

319,300 ha

237,000 ha

Designated Greenfield Areas (as of 2006)

87,900 ha2

80,600 ha

106,900 ha

New Designated Greenfield Areas (added since 2006)

19,100 ha2

19,000 ha

Total Designated Greenfield Areas

107,100 ha

99,600 ha

Total Urbanized Land Area in 2031

436,900 ha

418,900 ha

343,900 ha

1 Built Boundary for the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006 (2008), Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure.
2 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.
* Numbers may not sum to total due to rounding.
Table 4.2: Population and employment forecasts and gross density in 2031 under the Growth Plan and in the Business-as-Usual study

 

Growth Plan

(GGH)

Growth Plan, adjusted for smaller study area

BAU Study

Population in 2031

11.5 million1

11.5 million

10.5 million

Employment in 2031

5.5 million1

5.4 million

5.4 million

Total population and jobs combined in 2031

17.0 million1

16.6 million

15.9 million

Total urbanized land area in 20312

436,900 ha

418,900 ha

343,900 ha

Gross Density

38.5 p+j/ha

39.7 p+j/ha

46.5 p+j/ha

1 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006, Office Consolidation, January 2012, Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure.
2 See Table 4.1

 

Table 4.3 provides a breakdown of the gross densities for the Inner and Outer Ring in 2006 prior to the introduction of the Growth Plan in 2006. Table 4.4 provides a breakdown of the gross densities in 2031 25 years after the Growth Plan was established. Note that there is very little difference between the gross densities in 2006 (prior to the establishment of the Growth Plan) versus 2031 (following 25 years of development subject to the Growth Plan).

Table 4.3: 2006 gross densities, Inner Ring, Outer Ring and the GGH

 

Inner Ring

Outer Ring

GGH TOTAL

Population in 20061

6,322,000

2,119,000

8,441,000

Employment in 20061

3,186,000

959,000

4,145,000

Total population and  jobs combined in 2006

9,508,000

3,078,000

12,586,000

Built-Up Area (as of 2006)2

225,000 ha

104,800 ha

329,800 ha

Gross Density

42.3 p + j/hectare

29.4 p + j/hectare

38.2 p + j/hectare

1 Hemson Consulting Ltd., Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Forecasts to 2041, Technical Report, November 2012.
2 Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure, Built Boundary for the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006 (2008).

 

Table 4.4: 2031 gross densities, Inner Ring, Outer Ring and the GGH

 

Inner Ring

Outer Ring

GGH TOTAL

Population in 20311

8,620,000

2,880,000

11,500,000

Employment in 20311

4,330,000

1,240,000

5,570,000

Total population and jobs combined in 2031

12,950,000

4,120,000

17,070,000

Built-Up Area (as of 2006)2

225,000 ha

104,800 ha

329,800 ha

Designated Greenfield Area (as of 2006)3

45,200 ha

42,800 ha

88,000 ha

New Designated Greenfield Area (added since 2006) 3

11,000 ha

8,100 ha

19,100 ha

Total urbanized land area in 2031

281,200 ha

155,700 ha

436,900 ha

Gross Density

46.1 p+j/hectare

26.5 p+j/hectare

39.1 p+j/hectare

1 Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure, Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006, Office Consolidation, January 2012.
2 Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure, Built Boundary for the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006 (2008).
3 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.
* Numbers may not sum to total due to rounding.

 

It is also interesting to compare these findings with claims by the development industry that the Growth Plan is restricting the supply of land and thereby driving up the price of housing.[3] On the contrary, the Growth Plan is not restricting the amount of land available for development. Through the process of bringing municipal planning documents into conformity with the Growth Plan, municipalities have designated almost the same amount of land under the Growth Plan as they might have without the Growth Plan.

 

[1] Neptis Foundation, Toronto-Related Region Futures Study: Implications of Business-as-Usual Development, prepared by the IBI Group in association with Dillon Consulting, 2002, p. E.2.
[2] Government of Ontario, A Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe: Discussion Paper, Summer 2004, p. 5. In fact, the comparison is slightly exaggerated: Toronto covers 641 sq. km, so 1,000 is less than twice the size of the city.
[3] See, for example, Gary Gregoris and Andrew Sjogren, “Constrained land supply: A community builder’s perspective,” Ontario Planning Journal, vol. 26, no. 6, November/December 2012, p. 3. The authors state: “Some of the unintended consequences [of the Growth Plan] include increased land costs, shortage of building lots and blocks which has led to rising home prices, putting home ownership beyond the means of many young Ontarians. It has also limited or prevented investment, job creation and economic growth and development.”