The main Growth Plan policies for employment and competitiveness are summarized below.
Accommodating projected employment growth
The current version of the Growth Plan contains population and employment forecasts to 2041 for the GGH. For employment, the 2041 projection is for 6.3 million jobs. This projected growth of 1.8 million jobs is then allocated amongst the upper- and single-tier municipalities that make up the region. Plans in these municipalities must reflect and accommodate their growth allocation.
The settlement area
The Growth Plan defines a settlement area. The settlement area comprises two parts: the existing urban area, termed “built up areas,” and greenfield areas that have been identified for urbanization, and have been so designated through a municipal Official Plan – called “designated greenfield areas.”
Urban growth is to be directed to settlement areas. [S 2.2.2] So the settlement area defines a de facto urban boundary for the region. Expansions to settlement area boundaries can take place only through a municipal comprehensive review, and are subject to certain criteria, including a requirement that employment lands in expansion areas serve a maximum 20-year demand outlook. [S 2.2.8]
Employment lands policies
The main way in which the Growth Plan seeks to promote competitiveness is by ensuring an adequate supply of land for employment uses. Key policies in this regard relate to employment lands. [S 2.2.6]
The Growth Plan requires municipal official plans to ensure a supply of land that will accommodate their share of projected employment growth, in terms of both the amount of land and the ability to accommodate a range of employment uses. [S 2.2.6] The Growth Plan directs municipalities to provide for an “appropriate” mix of industrial, commercial and institutional uses and a range of sites, taking into account “the needs of existing and future businesses.”
This requirement includes planning policies for employment uses in relation to major infrastructure:
Municipalities are encouraged to designate and preserve lands within settlement areas in the vicinity of existing major highway interchanges, ports, rail yards and airports as areas for manufacturing, warehousing, and associated retail, office and ancillary facilities, where appropriate. S 2.2.6
The Plan also includes policies relating to planning for, protecting, and preserving employment areas for current and future uses. Employment areas are defined as those areas “designated in an official plan for clusters of business and economic activities including, but not limited to, manufacturing, warehousing, offices, and associated retail and ancillary facilities.”
The Plan also contains robust policies aimed at maintaining the existing supply of employment lands by protecting employment areas from conversion to other uses. In particular, sites in employment areas can be converted to non-employment uses only through a municipal comprehensive review.
In the Growth Plan, “employment lands” is not a defined term, and seems to include all kinds of districts that contain employment, including Urban Growth Centres, downtowns, Major Transit Station Areas. But the term “employment lands” more colloquially is used to refer to industrial areas, or business or office parks, rather than areas of more concentrated, mixed uses like downtowns or UGCs.
The Plan does not identify specific employment lands in the GGH, except for four in the Simcoe Sub-area Plan, the subject of an amendment to the Plan (see below).
Directing office uses
A key intention of the Plan is to direct major office uses (defined as buildings greater than 10,000 square metres or those containing over 500 jobs), as well as major institutional uses, to transit-supported locations, including Urban Growth Centres (UGCs) and Major Transit Station Areas (MTSAs), as well as “areas with existing frequent transit service, or existing or planned higher order transit service.” [S 2.2.6]
UGCs are envisioned as “high density major employment centres that will attract provincially, nationally or internationally significant employment uses.” S 2.2.4 There are 25 UGCs identified across the GGH. The Growth Plan imposes density targets on UGCs – 400 residents plus jobs per hectare for the more urban ones, and 150 residents plus jobs per hectare for the less urban ones.
Designated greenfield areas (DGAs) are to achieve a minimum density of 50 residents plus jobs per hectare, measured across a municipality’s total designated greenfield area (and excluding areas such as designated natural areas, wetlands, etc.).
The Plan contains explicit intensification targets for residential development: 40% of new residential development must be accommodated within the built-up area. There is no comparable target for non-residential uses. However, the plan states that a “significant portion” of both population and employment uses will be directed to built-up areas. [S 2.2.3]
The Plan provides for sub-area assessments, intended to provide a greater level of regional economic analysis and identify provincially significant employment areas [5.3]. Only one such assessment has taken place to date, for the Simcoe Sub-area.
The Simcoe Sub-area Plan contains policies to allow employment growth in strategic settlement employment areas and economic employment districts.
THE GROWTH PLAN CONTAINS EXPLICIT TARGETS FOR RESIDENTIAL INTENSIFICATION; THERE ARE NO COMPARABLE TARGETS FOR NONRESIDENTIAL LAND USES.
Official Plans for upper- and single-tier municipalities are required to conform to the policies of the Growth Plan. This means, for example, demonstrating where and how allocated population and employment growth will be accommodated, and including policies to achieve the required density and intensification targets.
In two-tier municipalities, this means that the Official Plans of lower-tier municipalities must also be amended to conform to the revised upper-tier plans.