The Province of Ontario has launched consultations for the 10-year review of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The outcome of this review may be to leave the Plan as it is, or to modify it. Many individuals and groups want to have a say in this decision.

The Neptis Foundation has been a close observer of the creation and implementation of the Plan since 2001. Neptis research helped inform the discussions that led up to its creation in 2006, and Neptis researchers have monitored its implementation since then.

This explanatory Brief with context provided by Neptis research has been created for three reasons:

  1. Many people are unclear about exactly how the Plan works. Central to understanding the Plan is knowing that it sets in motion a process of “land budgeting” by municipalities that is opaque and poorly understood by the general public. This guide explains the fundamentals of this process and the assumptions used to designate land to accommodate projected growth.
  2. Controversy has also arisen over the question of how much land is available for development, and whether the region is “running out of land” for development. To answer this question, Neptis researchers looked at municipal Official Plans and found that 107,100 hectares of land have been designated for urbanization across the Greater Golden Horseshoe; about 56,000 hectares lie within the more urbanized Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Neptis has also studied the actual urbanization of land in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (which the Plan calls the “Inner Ring”) from 1991 to 2011. That research also indicates how much of the land set aside for future development in the GTHA has been used since the Plan was established in 2006 and provides further insight into the land supply question.
  3. The original purpose of the Plan was to reduce the rate of land consumption compared with business-as-usual patterns (such as those that prevailed in the 1980s and 1990s). Neptis researchers have studied the rate of urbanization over 20 years in fast-growing urban regions across Canada and found evidence that the rate of urban expansion – i.e., land consumption at the edge – has slowed down in recent years. The research, however, also shows that in the GTHA in particular, much greater effort can be made to create a more diversified housing stock in newly developed suburban areas. The findings suggest possible future directions for the Growth Plan’s 10-year review.

Neptis hopes that this Brief will provide a guide to how the Plan works, evidence about its results to date, and useful comparisons to suggest what more could be done. This Brief is intended to contribute to the important consultations and debates taking place in 2015.