Category:Planning Act

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The Planning Act is the primary law governing land use planning in Ontario. The Act has a crucial role in shaping both communities and the natural landscape in central and southern Ontario due to the broad powers over land use planning that it provides to provincial and municipal decision makers. The legislation grants municipal governments authority to control the use of privately owned lands through a range of planning tools, including official plans, zoning bylaws, site plan controls and subdivision approvals. At the same time, the Planning Act is intended to establish a land use planning system that is led by provincial policy, and to integrate matters of provincial interest in provincial and municipal planning decisions.

The Planning Act allows the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to issue policy statements, approved by the provincial Cabinet, on land use planning matters that are of provincial interest. These detailed policy directions are known collectively as the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) which is administered by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH).

All decisions on planning matters under the Planning Act must be “consistent with” the PPS. This includes decisions made by municipal councils, local boards, planning boards, provincial ministers, provincial government and agency officials, and the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Such decisions also must either conform, or not conflict, with any provincial land use plans in effect, such as the Greenbelt Plan.

Prior to the 2004 amendments to the Planning Act, decision makers were required only to “have regard to” the PPS. This language allowed greater municipal discretion on whether or not to apply provincial policies in the PPS, and resulted in less provincial control over decisions. As a result, municipalities and the OMB applied the PPS in an inconsistent manner. Some decision makers merely paid lip service to the PPS under the “shall have regard to” standard, while others interpreted it to mean that provincial policy should be seriously considered, if not absolutely applied. For example, the OMB’s interpretation of the “have regard to” language of the Planning Act and the extent to which the PPS is implemented varied depending upon which OMB member is presiding.

A 2002 application for review under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR) raised concerns that the “shall have regard to” language resulted in land use decisions contrary to the government’s own provincial interests as set out in the PPS.

The new directive in the Planning Act to “be consistent with” the PPS is more prescriptive than the “shall have regard to” language. It directs decision makers to apply the PPS in planning decisions, so that provincial policy is likely to be applied more consistently in planning decisions, and provincial interests given priority. The requirement to be “consistent with” provincial policy lies somewhere on a spectrum between the “shall have regard to” standard and the stronger “conform with” requirement used in relation to provincial land use plans.

The Environmental Bill of Rights and the Planning Act

The EBR applies to provincial decisions that affect the environment, but not to decisions made at the municipal level. As a result, most opportunities for public participation in land use planning decisions are available through processes provided under the Planning Act, rather than the EBR. The EBR does, however, apply to decisions made by MMAH concerning environmentally significant acts, policies, regulations and approvals. Proposals to amend land use planning laws, such as the Planning Act, and policies, such as the PPS, must be posted on the Environmental Registry and the public has the right to comment on them under the EBR. Members of the public may also apply for a review of a land use planning law, policy, regulation or instrument, or a review of the need for a land use planning law, policy or regulation. Prior to the mid-1990s, many municipal land use planning decisions, including official plans, required approval by MMAH and therefore would have been subject to the EBR. However, reforms to Ontario’s land use planning system in 1996 delegated approval authority for official plans and official plan amendments to some municipal governments, meaning that fewer municipal planning decisions are placed on the Environmental Registry for public comment. The only planning approvals still posted on the Environmental Registry are those where the province continues to have approval authority.