At the end of April, the Region held a final public meeting to collect feedback and comments on the Region’s new draft Official Plan. This document outlines how land will be used across Niagara’s communities to ensure growth meets our planning and development needs.

To signify just how important this document is, the Region has spent nearly four years working through its development, has had multiple points of consultation with lower tier municipalities and planning staff, and extensive dialogue with a variety of stakeholders including private citizens, environmental groups, the development industry, our Indigenous community, and youth. Last week’s meeting had a total of 33 delegations all wanting a say on what growth in Niagara will look like. The new plan includes important features marking a significant improvement and commitment to specific priorities.

One such feature is the natural heritage section. Council was presented with options to inform direction on this component. I’m thrilled to confirm that Council endorsed the most robust environmental protection option, recognizing a systems-based approach to preserving and enhancing Niagara’s natural heritage features. This acknowledges the important role of natural corridors and large linkages in supporting our natural features and sites.

The plan also contains a section on climate change, not included in our current plan. This means long-term planning will also incorporate climate modeling and projections to help mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding. As part of this work, we also approved a greening initiative that will result in an increase in tree planting efforts and seek to diversify some of our tree species. A welcome improvement from our current plan!

Finally, facing a projected population of 674,000 people and 272,000 jobs by 2051, the plan emphasizes the importance of an adequate and diverse supply of attainable housing across Niagara. These housing needs also require infrastructure, such as sewers, water mains and roads. However, we also want to create conditions that attract and retain employment. But more importantly, growth or development needs to be channeled into growth appropriate areas that balance our housing and employment needs with retention of our small-town communities, and protection of our agricultural and green spaces.

Next steps include a final approval by Council in June and submission to the Province for approval. Once completed, our local municipalities, including Pelham, will need to develop secondary plan. The secondary plans are where some of the more detailed plans for specific development and growth will occur locally.

I’m hopeful the new Official Plan will pass without issue recognizing that current development applications and planning continues to follow an official plan developed in the 1970’s! As such, does not reflect our current housing challenges, is devoid of any climate change policy and does not reflect the enhanced environmental protections we’ve embraced for Niagara. As far as I’m concerned, this new plan couldn’t come into effect fast enough! A huge thank you to everyone who participated in our consultation process and recognized the value of this important exercise.