Short window for public comment on draft land-use plan

 

Short window for public comment on draft land-use plan

5/23/2008

Published in the Calgary Herald, May 23, 2008
By Jodie Hierlmeier, Staff Counsel, Environmental Law Centre

The province’s draft land use framework has received a fairly warm reception from environmentalists, industry and municipalities. Some might say that there isn’t much to criticize in a high level plan that signals a positive shift away from the current laissez-faire approach to planning towards a regime that will set firm limits on development and land-uses.

That may be true, but like most big picture plans the devil is in the details. Although the draft framework is a product of 18 months of consultation, the government is giving Albertans one final chance to comment on the draft until June 20. This is a short but important window of opportunity to comment on the details that are missing from the draft framework.

Specifically, the draft framework has significant gaps with respect to how it will be legally enacted and enforced. There isn’t a strong commitment in the framework to enact new flagship legislation that will set out the rules of the game for how planning decisions will be made. Tinkering with current legislation is not enough to implement the paradigm shift that the land use framework proposes.

What we need is a clear statement of principles and objectives in new legislation that establishes the legal basis for regional land use planning in Alberta. The plans must have legal force in order to be binding on decision-makers, such as municipalities and boards like the Energy Resources Conservation Board, as they face the tough choices necessary to manage our land and resources in the face of a rapidly growing economy and population.

Legislation is also important because it should provide mechanisms to monitor compliance with plans and a means for stakeholder groups and individual citizens to challenge lower level decisions on the grounds that they do not comply with regional plans.

It is not clear from the draft framework how public participation will occur in the new planning regime.

In the last round of public sessions only 3,000 Albertans submitted comments on the land use regime via the government’s “workbook”. That means only 0.001 % of the province’s three million or so residents provided feedback into a regime that will affect everything from recreational land uses, to residential development, to oil and gas drilling.

Let’s remember that this is still a draft framework so there is a danger that it may never be implemented. Public support is critical in order to push the government to move ahead with this initiative.

* The original op-ed document is shown here; published versions may vary.

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