Each municipality in Ontario (upper-, lower-, or single-tier) is required to produce an Official Plan that, according to the Planning Act (Section 16.1):
a) shall contain goals, objectives and policies established primarily to manage and direct physical change and the effects on the social, economic and natural environment of the municipality or part of it, or an area that is without municipal organization; and
b) may contain a description of the measures and procedures proposed to attain the objectives of the plan and a description of the measures and procedures for informing and obtaining the views of the public in respect of a proposed amendment to the official plan or proposed revision of the plan or in respect of a proposed zoning by-law.
The Official Plan determines where all forms of development (residential, industrial, and commercial) will occur and sets timelines for this development. It also identifies the location and type of infrastructure (e.g., major roads, sewers and water mains) and public facilities (e.g., parks, schools, recreation centres, etc.) in the municipality. Once an Official Plan is in effect:
- local council and municipal staff decisions must follow the plan;
- all new services (e.g., sewers or watermains) must conform to the plan;
- all zoning by-laws must comply with the Official Plan.
Official Plans for upper-tier municipalities (Counties and Regions) deal with broad planning issues that affect the lower-tier municipalities. All local Official Plans and zoning by-laws must conform to the County or Regional Official Plan.