BY DIANA HUSON
Niagara Regional Councillor
A motion before Pelham Town Council this Monday called for the Regional Chair to request Niagara to be exempted from having our new Official Plan reviewed pending the resumption of in-person consultation. I completely disagree with the motion and am happy to share my thoughts on why.
Regional staff have been working on the Official Plan for over two years. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and extensive public and political consultation. It’s true that consultation has shifted to online, however our experience has been that these sessions are often better attended and have resulted in more thorough participation by the attendees.
To date, the Region has completed the following consultations: Special Meeting of Council (July 2018); 12 Public Information Centres (at physical locations or by Zoom); three public surveys; two presentations to local councils; workshops with portions of each local council (March/April 2021); a workshop with Regional Council (May 2021); 16 discussions with area planners; 63 meetings with local municipal planning staff; six workshop sessions with stakeholder groups; six meetings with NPCA staff or board; nine meetings with Indigenous groups; seven meetings with the Planning Advisory Committee; 34 reports to the Planning and Economic Development Committee; there is consultation overlap between the OP and Natural Environment Work Program for the OP, but there have been over 130 points of consultation on this program.
Further consultation will take place after the release of draft policy in May. So from the standpoint of inadequate consultation, I would completely disagree.
Furthermore I believe the motion is unwarranted and ill-advised for the following reasons.
First, putting the plan off could push approval off to another version of a Provincial government who may backtrack on the policies. A worse case scenario may also involve a new iteration of municipal councils, which would mean starting entirely from scratch with a new round of consultation with political stakeholders. Pulling the plug now would represent a significant waste of staff time over the past two years—and as we know staff time is taxpayer money.
Second, the Region hasn’t had a comprehensive review of the OP for over 50 years. Think how much our communities have changed over this time! It’s smarter to do a comprehensive review and make sure the policies align with one another instead of making ad hoc changes here and there.
Third, the new OP has a natural heritage component that does not exist in our current plan. Staff are also undertaking a climate change plan and one of the outcomes will be a greening strategy directly resulting from this work. I think these pieces are vital to our municipal planning and reflect the values of our community and interest shown recently with respect to environmental issues.
Niagara is growing. It’s important to have an Official Plan that directs that growth into the right areas, but also ensures we can protect natural assets and preserve local character. Without it we lose our say and control over how that growth occurs. ◆