by Maggie Horne
on Thursday, April 12th, 2018 at 11:29am.
The Greenbelt, for those who don’t know, is a protected band of land that surrounds much of the Golden Horseshoe. It was created by the province in 2005 as a way to contain urban sprawl, particularly into environmentally sensitive areas, and includes green space, farmland, forests, wetlands, and watersheds.
Now the province wants to expand the Greenbelt into much of the land around Guelph and that has a lot of people worried.
There is much debate over the effect such a move would have on both housing supply and prices. Developers blame the province’s anti-sprawl policies, including the Greenbelt, on the soaring house prices that have made home ownership a pipe dream for many as the available land for single-family and semi-detached homes shrinks. On the other side, urban planners and environmentalists point to statistics showing there is enough land already earmarked for development to last decades.
But it’s not just about the GTA. If the plan to expand goes through, rural lot and home prices will jump, too, when the ability to sever land is restricted. And if Guelph can't annex more land to the south, supply will be even lower and will cause price inflation in the city, too.
A greenbelt doesn’t contain sprawl; the sprawl merely leapfrogs over it. We already see this happening in Orangeville, Shelburne, and even Dundalk. Last year, a 700-home development was announced for Dundalk, a town with a population of just 2,046, and the first phase of 70 homes sold in hours. It’s safe to assume the development will bring at least 1,400 new residents to the area. What will that kind of influx do to local infrastructure?
Annexing land, when the need finally arises, around Orangeville, Shelburne, Dundalk and the like is still taking agricultural land out of production. And isn’t that exactly what the Greenbelt is trying to avoid in the first place?
It is simply displacing the problem to another area, increasing commute times and increasing carbon emissions and traffic due to longer commute distances.
There’s also the issue of the province and the federal government working at cross purposes. The province is, in effect, choking off expansion in the very areas where housing demand is highest: the GTA and its surrounding areas. Much of that demand is being created by federal government policy to boost immigration as a way to offset our sagging birthrate. And with 60% of immigrants settling in the GTA, the housing crunch is exacerbated.
If the federal government encouraged immigration to regions that need it, some of the pressure on southern Ontario would be removed. Moncton, for instance, needs 1,000 IT workers and the average house price there is $239,000. What better environment to come to in Canada: affordable housing and lots of jobs.