December 16, 2015

Greenbelt expansion could limit Erin’s future growth

As published in The Erin Advocate

In order to preserve farmland, woodlands, wetlands and ground water near the GTA, is there a need to lock down vast new areas of the countryside, including the western part of Erin, to drastically limit future development?

A coalition of environmental groups is advocating a major expansion of the Greenbelt, which already protects the eastern part of the Town of Erin, including the lands surrounding Hillsburgh and Erin village. Within the Greenbelt, most development is banned outside the fixed urban borders of hamlets and villages.

The Greenbelt is now under review by the provincial government and there is debate over how much protection is needed. In a tug of war between environmentalists and the development industry, the province has the difficult task of setting priorities, finding solutions and striking a reasonable balance.

Dark areas on the map show proposed local additions 
to the Greenbelt. Existing Greenbelt lands are to the east.    
On one hand, Ontario sees population growth as essential to the economy, and insists that counties and regions accept their share of new residents – mainly with denser concentrations. In 2006, 8.4 million people lived in the Greater Golden Horseshoe; by 2031 the number is expected to be 11 million, up 31%. Developers, and large cities already bursting at the seams, want the Greenbelt territory and restrictions reduced to allow for more growth.

On the other hand, the government also agrees with vast majority of residents who don’t want to see Southern Ontario covered with pavement.

The Greenbelt was intended as a barrier to urban sprawl, but development is now leapfrogging over it. Greenbelt lands are also threatened by new mega-highways, including the GTA West that will run from Vaughan to Caledon, Georgetown and the 401, and by the large-scale dumping of potentially contaminated soil as fill on farmland.

The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation is quite happy with the recent report of a Coordinated Land Use Plan Review advisory panel led by former Toronto Mayor David Crombie. It backs growing the Greenbelt, which already covers 1.8 million acres, stretching 325 km from Rice Lake to the Niagara River.

Farmland and sensitive natural areas outside the Greenbelt already have some protection through provincial policies, conservation authority regulations and local official plans.

The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, which includes 115 groups such as the Wellington Water Watchers, is proposing to add almost 1.6 million acres to the Greenbelt. That would include river valleys in built-up areas, huge zones surrounding Barrie and Cobourg and significant groundwater sources throughout Waterloo Region and Wellington County.

The Waterloo, Orangeville and Paris-Galt Moraines provide the headwaters of the Grand River and aquifers for drinking water in Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. The new water protection zones could be called the “Bluebelt”. For more information, go to and

“The County Planning department would like to understand the purpose of expanding the Greenbelt,” said Wellington Planning Director Gary Cousins.

“The Greenbelt was initially established as a separator between the GTA and what has been called the ‘outer ring municipalities’. It appears the purpose is changing based on providing higher levels of environmental and agricultural protection, but there are many protections already in place to achieve these purposes.”

Erin Councillor Jeff Duncan raised the issue at the December 1 meeting of Town Council, with a reminder that in 2004, part of Erin was unexpectedly placed in the Greenbelt without consultation or consent. Council had to make decisions about urban boundaries on short notice.

Duncan suggested that the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, funded by the provincial government, is releasing “trial balloons” to test reaction to the possibility of Greenbelt expansion.

“The Greenbelt has both negative and positive attributes to it, but our citizens and Town/County officials should be prepared to debate those issues,” he said.