On August 13, 2003, the Capital Regional District Board adopted a “landmark agreement,” the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), cited in a report prepared in March 2003 titled The Capital Regional District Growth Strategy: Herding Cats Onto the Road of Sustainability, prepared by the University of Waterloo’s Department of Environment and Resource Studies.
At the time, the RGS was a precedent-setting agreement, developed and approved by all member municipalities and the regional district, representing a partnership on social, economic and environmental goals and priority actions.
While the RGS has guided growth and development in the region for more than a decade, CRD staff has been revising the document and will present a new draft version to the Board in April 2015, called the Regional Sustainability Strategy (RSS).
Why an agreement about regional growth and what’s a regional growth strategy? Some background — in 1995, the BC government passed the Growth Strategies Statutes Amendment Act, to facilitate better coordination of municipalities, regional districts and the provincial government to deal with complex growth management issues. Its most significant provisions focus on the regional level. The Act gave “legislative authority” for regional districts to voluntarily develop and adopt a Regional Growth Strategy.
The core objective of the Regional Growth Strategies Act is “to promote human settlement that is socially, economically and environmentally healthy and makes efficient use of…land and other resources.” The RGS reflected the spirit of the Act with the following priority goals:
- Avoid urban sprawl and make sure that development takes place where adequate facilities exist…
- Protect environmentally sensitive areas.
- Maintain the integrity of a secure, productive resource base, including agricultural and forestland reserves.
- Protect the quality and quantity of ground and surface water.
A regional growth or sustainability strategy is really a vision document that commits member municipalities and regional districts to a course of action to meet common social, economic and environmental objectives. The RGS also forms part of a municipality’s Official Community Plan (OCP), through a Regional Context Statement, which links the regional vision to the municipal plan. The RGS was designed to outline the regional vision for the next 20 years.
The RGS recognized that without consistent support and long term commitment from the CRD, municipal boundaries that keep urban containment compact would be vulnerable, resulting in unmanaged growth and what I call “creeping sprawl,” that would continue to threaten such assets as green and rural spaces, agriculture and farmland, forests and water resources. Throughout the life of the RGS, and now with a revised draft RSS, local governments in the CRD are still faced with the same challenge — they must decide how strong, consistent and effective they will be in the application of sound land use policy that considers critical factors such as:
- Regional energy planning and conservation
- Local food production and security
- Efficient, environmentally sound transportation planning
- Conservation and use of water resources
- Waste water treatment and recovery
Effective regional planning enables local governments to manage growth with confidence and vision, to plan for future sustainability and for an environmental legacy of which future generations can be proud. More than that, regional sustainability is critical to our regional health and well being. But the draft RSS raises some concerns, as expertly outlined in a submission to the CRD, dated October 2014 and revised March 9, 2015, prepared by the Consortium on Regional Sustainability. They make eight recommendations for improvements to the draft RSS:
- Build compact complete communities within the Growth Containment Area
- Delete “rural settlement areas”
- Establish minimum density targets and a comprehensive regional evaluation process before identifying appropriate areas into which to extend the Growth Management Area
- Renew the regional green-blue spaces strategy
- Strengthen the Land Use-Transportation Dependency
- Retain or increase land in the ALR
- Use the green infrastructure
- Use local government jurisdiction to Address Social Sustainability
- No extension of water
Finally, they state: “…the Regional Sustainability Strategy will be successful only to the extent that its implementation plan is precise in terms of tasks to be undertaken, timetables, monitoring, and action to remedy shortfalls. We appreciate that it is premature to set out the full timetable at this time. Even now, however, the draft RSS should contain lists of actions and a proposed timetable for the most urgent matters. Not least, inclusion of such a provisional scheme would help highlight for Board members the importance of issues and help determine the tradeoffs that must be made.”
I would add to this comprehensive submission my own recommendation, that in proposing the new Regional Sustainability Strategy, the CRD should increase community consultation by presenting the draft to each of the 13 municipalities and three regional districts, through a series of Open Houses in each community, so that residents are fully informed about what the future will hold related to regional planning and the future of sustainability in the CRD.
In the words of the 2003 University of Waterloo report on the Regional Growth Strategy of the same year, it concluded:
“If the necessary goodwill and commitment are to be found anywhere in British Columbia, they are to be found among the municipal leaders and residents of the Capital Regional District, given the long standing concern for quality of life issues in this region. What happens in the CRD will therefore be an important test of the Regional Growth Strategy mechanism. If effective growth management using the Regional Growth Strategy cannot be accomplished in the Capital Regional District, it is unlikely that the mechanism will work well anywhere in the Province.”
Time will tell and I suggest that the region stay tuned.
(For more information, please visit the CRD website, at: https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/rss/connect-engage to review the agenda for the April 29, 2015 Committee of the Whole meeting and relevant staff reports and public submissions, and if you are interested, please attend the meeting at 9:30 a.m.)