Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy greenwashes unsustainable development

Many products that have made environmental green claims are being proven to stretch the truth or be completely false. This is commonly known as “greenwashing”. It appears that this also applies to the planning of our towns and cities.

Metro Vancouver is proposing to replace the existing Livable Region Strategic Plan with the Regional Growth Strategy. Even though the RGS has been in development since the Gordon Campbell B.C. Liberals were elected in 2001, the general public is still unaware of this plan and what it means—even now as it goes to public hearing.

The RGS bylaw draft went to the Metro Vancouver board on November 12 for first and second reading of the RGS bylaws, and it was referred for public hearing November 24 to December 2, 2010.

The Metro Vancouver regional planning committee meeting report dated November 5 states that the RGS “is balanced in its approach to addressing regional planning objectives while respecting local government interests”. The RGS may address regional, provincial, and TransLink objectives of transferring control of municipal land use policies to senior governments. In doing so, however, the plan jeopardizes environmental protection and undermines the interests of local governments and communities.

Promoters of the RGS often say that if everyone is a bit unhappy then they have struck a good balance of interests. A common dissatisfaction may equally well mean that the many unanswered concerns reveal a generally bad deal overall. It appears that the RGS is the latter.

This article deals with the following concerns about the Regional Growth Strategy:

Ӣ The RGS promotes and enables urban sprawl.

Ӣ The RGS transfers municipal land use authority to senior governments.

”¢ The purpose and effect of the legislation and the RGS enable TransLink’s implementation of the Hong Kong model, which is to use real estate development to fund transit rather than the preferred carbon/gas taxes.

Ӣ The RGS has Frequent Transit Development Areas that could be 400 to 800 metres around bus stops with high-density development and significant TransLink influence in land use policy.

Ӣ The rushed adoption process is leading to errors.

Ӣ The RGS adoption process is restrictive and if there are disputes, the resolution process could be significantly directed by the province as binding arbitration with the minister as arbitrator.

RGS promotes and enables urban sprawl: Rather than limit urban sprawl as under the LRSP, the new RGS will expand urban designations that will weaken regulations protecting the green zones and the Agricultural Land Reserve, thereby encouraging sprawl. To demonstrate how the RGS enables urban sprawl, one only has to look at the comments from the Agricultural Land Commission.

The Agricultural Land Commission points out that there are areas in Richmond and Aldergrove where the Urban Containment Boundary encroaches into the Agricultural Land Reserve. There are also seven Special Study Areas under consideration for development that are entirely within the Agricultural Land Reserve. The commission also raises concerns that rural lands within the ALR are not clearly protected from development and that the language has been weakened from previous drafts.

The Metro Vancouver board vote requirements for exclusion of lands from the ALR have been changed from a 100-percent vote under the original Livable Region Strategic Plan to only a two-thirds vote under the Regional Growth Strategy. This invites deal making to trade off further ALR exclusions.

All of these policies put more development speculation pressures on agricultural lands, which will inevitably lead to further urban sprawl.

Agricultural Land Reserve map

The conservation lands in the green zones are also re-designated for urban development. For example, forested lands in West Vancouver have been designated urban up the mountains and there also is a large Special Study Area under consideration for additional conversion to urban development.

Transfer of land use authority: The RGS transfers municipal land use authority to senior governments including TransLink. Municipal official community plans are forced to conform to regional context statements approved and managed by Metro Vancouver.

The new draft includes regional land use designations and overlays such as General Urban, Urban Centres, and Frequent Transit Development Areas that must be depicted on detailed parcel-based maps maintained by Metro Vancouver.

Municipal official community plans must match regional context statements that require Metro Vancouver approval. Those plans are required to be consistent with provincial and TransLink plans and objectives. TransLink’s Transport 2040 Plan is mutually reinforced in the RGS, with TransLink and transit-oriented land use planning mentioned throughout.

Diagram from RGS

“Each municipality prepares an updated Official Community Plan (OCP) and Regional Context Statement (RCS) within two years of the adoption of a new Regional Growth Strategy. The RCS sets out the relationship between the Regional Growth Strategy and the municipality’s OCP, and identifies how local actions will contribute to achieving Regional Growth Strategy goals. Municipalities must submit their RCS to the Metro Vancouver Board for acceptance. If Metro Vancouver does not accept the RCS, this triggers a resolution process as set out in legislation.”

The unelected TransLink board is defined as an “affected local government” that has a veto over RGS adoption and all major amendments. Metro Vancouver and the municipalities have no such reciprocal rights to approval of TransLink’s plans.

TransLink’s Hong Kong model of financing transit with development: Provincial legislation, both current and proposed, gives the region, the province, and TransLink broad overriding powers that would be implemented through the RGS in order to circumvent municipal jurisdiction. The purpose and effect of the legislation and the RGS enable TransLink’s implementation of the Hong Kong model, which is to use real estate development to fund transit. Transit should be funded through a polluter-pay system such as vehicle levies, carbon and gas taxes rather than development.

The RGS has Frequent Transit Development Areas that could be 400 to 800 metres from every bus stop with high density development, and significant TransLink influence in land use policy. This is based on TransLink’s Frequent Transit Network. Since Vancouver has a full transit grid, Frequent Transit Development Areas could cover the entire city.

TransLink’s Frequent Transit Development Network

Examples of what this scale of development could be like can be seen in the controversial plans for the 38-storey transit-oriented development proposed at Cambie Street and Marine Drive. The circles around the existing and future stations along Cambie represent transit development areas.

Interpretation of the RGS is under provincial control: In the current draft RGS, the glossary has been deleted and replaced with a section call interpretation that says: “6.14.2 All terms used in the Regional Growth Strategy that are defined in the Local Government Act have the meanings given to such terms in the Local Government Act.” These definitions import considerable provincial powers and requirements that affect the interpretation of the RGS.

The applicable definitions should have been included as an appendix to the RGS during the consultation process, so that readers could view them in the context of the rest of the document. This has not happened so far.

Definitions in Local Government Act Part 1, Part 25, and the Community Charter apply to the Regional Growth Strategy and have significant implications.

RGS creates another level of bureaucracy: Land use planning becomes much more complicated under the RGS. There is a whole new level of expensive time-consuming bureaucracy created to manage this process that could delay and override municipal planning and development processes. This extra level would make it much more difficult for the local area community to have an impact on land use planning. The region would also need to raise regional tax levies to pay for this RGS process.

Rushed process leading to errors: The 78-page RGS is a complex bylaw document. It is being rushed through to first and second reading without due process and this rush is leading to errors.

There have been many draft amendments brought forward with significant changes over the last several weeks. This has not allowed municipal staff and councils enough time to fully make an informed decision nor has it allowed stakeholders to have adequate input.

RGS adoption process restrictive: The RGS goes into adoption procedures as defined under LGA Part 25 Division 2 — Preparation and Adoption Procedures.

Once the RGS has been accepted by a simple majority of the Metro board, the RGS cannot be outright rejected by any single municipality and can be adopted by force of the province. These procedures would not easily allow for significant changes to the RGS during adoption once having entered into the process.

Legislation specifies that a municipality may not outright reject the RGS once it has been referred by the Metro board. A municipality is deemed to have accepted any specific clause it does not object to with written reasons as to why it objects. The municipality then must enter into either a voluntary resolution process, or failing resolution, binding arbitration with the minister as arbitrator.

It is crucial that the RGS is in a form that is fully revised prior to referral for municipal acceptance. This current draft has a long way to go before it is ready. The whole concept needs to be reconsidered.

This draft and all of the previous drafts have not adequately addressed the concerns that I had raised in January. This is the same proposal as before, reconstructed in ways that increase those concerns, not reduce them.

Public hearing: The following is from a Metro public notice. The public hearing is scheduled over four sessions, in various locations in the region.

Ӣ Wednesday, November 24, at 1 p.m. at the Executive Inn, 405 North Road, Coquitlam;

Ӣ Tuesday, November 30, at 6 p.m. at the Pinnacle at the Pier, 138 Victory Ship Way, North Vancouver;

Ӣ Wednesday, December 1, at 7 p.m. at the Sheraton Guildford, 15269 104th Avenue, Surrey; and

Ӣ Thursday, December 2, at 7 p.m. in the 2nd floor boardroom, Metro Vancouver head office, 4330 Kingsway, Burnaby.

Members of the public may attend a session and make their opinion known. If it is not possible to attend in person, written submissions are encouraged and may be submitted prior to the public hearing. All written submissions must be received by 12 noon on Tuesday (November 23). Please send submissions to the attention of Paulette Vetleson, corporate secretary:

By mail: Metro Vancouver, 4330 Kingsway, Burnaby B.C., V5H 4G8
By fax: 604-451-6686
Or by email:

Please note that the Metro Vancouver board will not accept written or oral representations after the public hearing has concluded.

Once the public hearing is complete, the Metro Vancouver board will consider changes to address input that has been received. The board will then send the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw to each affected local government for acceptance, as per Section 857 of the Local Government Act. If the Regional Growth Strategy is accepted by all the affected local governments, then the Metro Vancouver board will be asked to consider adoption of the Regional Growth Strategy.

Elizabeth Murphy has a background in development and urban land economics.

Regional Growth Strategy - November 12, 2010



Eric C

Nov 18, 2010 at 4:08pm

Good article. TransLink and sustainable growth are mutually exclusive. Toss the regional growth strategy plan in the garbage.

TransLink is in the business of creating a sprawling transit empire to protect its future existence and doesn't know the first thing about sustainability which means having people live near school or work. It does not mean people living in Coquitlam, Surrey or Richmond to commute long distances into Vancouver for work.

Frank Tyers

Nov 18, 2010 at 4:37pm

Excellent and balanced coverage of the issues. It is terrifying that informed public input is being ignored and that we are on the verge of Soviet style central planning--take it or take it.

Second Nation

Nov 18, 2010 at 10:43pm

A good article. And my comment comes from someone who's usually unhappy with the quality of "research" in the GS. Thanks for the piece.

Councillor Alan Nixon

Nov 29, 2010 at 10:41am

We are going to be blithely giving up authority over our own Municipal Land Use and Planning processes. Nobody in the District of North Vancouver voted to do such a thing or to impart such authority to Metro Vancouver.Most people are totally asleep at the switch on this issue. We have been lulled into a false sense of security by Metro's soothing balm of platitudes and condescencion. Be afraid - be very afraid!! Get out to the Public Hearings and let them know you will not tolerate such a usurpment of local authority.

grant gordon

Nov 30, 2010 at 6:49pm

The Comox Valley RD is in the Non Binding Resolution phase of the RGS process. The provincial government gave us 2 years start to finish to complete the project. In their haste to comply the CVRD board chair (The Mayor of Courtenay) sent a draft Bylaw out for consultation with the Municipalities and surrounding Regional Districts before they had evaluated the results of 2 public hearings and finalized the draft bylaw. As a consequence of this, all of the issues brought up at 2 public hearings were excluded from the document. Only written objections from participating RD Municipalities and surrounding RDs made after the public process was over can be reviewed at the Non Binding Resolution phase. Rural voters and taxpayers have been shut out of the process because the municipalities which have the greater numbers of votes at the CVRD table overrule the wishes of the rural constituent who comprise 1/3rd of the population and 4/5ths of the land mass within the CVRD. Municipalities get to object first as Municipalities and then they get to object once again as controlling members of the CVRD Board.

Personally, here I would like to see provincial arbitration. This would force the municipalities that control the CVRD and the non binding resolution process to accede to provincial mandate that requires them to provide sewage to existing adjacent rural areas without annexation. It might also remove the Settlement Expansion Area (SEAs) designation of outlying rural areas that will loot the taxpayers from existing rural electoral areas and further consolidate municipal control within the CVRD without doing anything to curb rural sprawl and green house gas emissions and all the rest of that greenwashing bull that is the foundation of the entire RGS progrom in the first place. The area comprising the SEAs in this document double the existing urban area bring together the boundaries of the three settlement areas of Comox, Courtenay and Cumberland.

Be very afraid of this process.

grant gordon