The Growth Plan implementation process

Under the Places to Grow Act, 2005, the Province of Ontario is responsible for developing a Growth Plan. Municipalities are responsible for implementing the Plan locally by amending their official plans and other planning documents to adopt its policies, forecasts, and targets and to ensure that all municipal decisions conform to the Growth Plan (see Figure 1.3).

Figure 1.3: Municipal Growth Plan conformity planning process

Role of the Province

The Province (through the Ontario Growth Secretariat and the Ministry of Infrastructure) prepares population and employment growth forecasts based on demographic and economic trends. The Province distributes the forecast growth to each of the 21 upper- and single-tier municipalities; these forecasts are the basis for land use and infrastructure planning in each of these municipalities.[1]

The Growth Plan also contains policies and targets intended to ensure that the additional population growth is accommodated, either within existing built-up urban areas, or in compact new developments on greenfield areas that are contiguous to and integrated with existing development.

The key Growth Plan targets are:

  • Minimum Intensification Targets: The Growth Plan requires that by 2015, 40% of all new residential development constructed annually must be located within existing built-up areas. Municipalities in the Outer Ring may be exempted from this requirement, under certain conditions.
  • Designated Greenfield Area Minimum Density Targets: The Growth Plan requires that future development on Designated Greenfield Areas achieve a minimum density of 50 people and jobs per hectare combined by 2031. The density is to be determined at the level of single- and upper-tier municipalities only. Again, municipalities in the Outer Ring may be exempted from this requirement, under certain conditions.
  • Urban Growth Centres Minimum Density Targets: The Growth Plan identifies 25 urban growth centres, most of which are historic downtowns or emerging centres in suburban municipalities. These centres have been assigned minimum density targets that vary from 150 to 400 people and jobs per hectare, depending on their context, location, current density, and potential for growth.

The province requires all municipalities in the GGH to adopt the Growth Plan's policies, targets, and forecasts through amendments to their official plans.[2] Where applicable, the Minister of Infrastructure may review and permit the use of alternative minimum targets.[3] Once municipalities have updated their official plans to conform to the Growth Plan, the Province, as the approval authority in most cases,[4] reviews (and modifies if necessary) each updated municipal official plan. However, its decisions may be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) by developers, other stakeholders, or the municipality itself.[5]

The Growth Plan requires the Minister of Infrastructure to periodically review the Plan and its forecasts and allows for the Plan to be amended accordingly.[6]

Role of Municipalities

Municipalities have a key role in implementing the Growth Plan, because they control local planning decisions and the use and development of land.[7] Upper tiers are responsible for allocating population and employment growth forecasts as well as minimum greenfield area density and intensification targets among their constituent lower-tier municipalities.[8]

Each municipality must prepare a growth management strategy, which includes a land budget.[9] The growth management strategy forms the foundation for decisions regarding the location and form of new development. In essence, the land budget assesses the existing land supply and converts municipal population and employment growth forecasts to the land area (hectares) required to accommodate additional people and jobs over time (see Figure 1.4).

More specifically, municipalities use the land budgets to demonstrate how they plan to:

  • Accommodate the population and employment growth forecasts
  • Achieve the minimum residential intensification target
  • Achieve the minimum designated greenfield area density target
  • Achieve any applicable Urban Growth Centre minimum density target
  • Justify any proposed expansions to the settlement area boundary
Figure 1.4: Generalized land budget process

The land budget process includes defining a built boundary (that is, the extent of the built-up area).[10] Residential development within this area is considered intensification under the policies of the Plan. Growth that cannot be accommodated inside the built boundary is to occur on designated greenfield areas, that is, undeveloped areas within the limits of the settlement area boundary. (Note that the built boundary defines the limits of land developed up to 2006; the settlement area boundary defines the limits of the entire settlement area; land between the built boundary and the settlement area boundary is known as the designated greenfield area and is set aside in municipal plans for development, but was not developed as of 2006. See Figure 1.5.)

Figure 1.5: Built boundary and settlement area boundary

Finally, if the land budget indicates that the forecast population and employment growth will exceed the capacity of both the built-up area and the existing supply of designated greenfield area lands (provided that the minimum intensification and greenfield density targets are planned to be achieved), the municipality may add additional lands to the designated greenfield area through an expansion of the settlement area boundary. This expansion requires municipalities to carry out a comprehensive review[11] to justify the need for additional land. The review must demonstrate, among other things, that the municipality cannot accommodate the allocated growth through intensification or in existing designated greenfield areas.

[1] Growth Plan, Section
[2] Section 12(2) of the Places to Grow Act, 2005, requires municipalities to amend their official plan to conform to the Growth Plan before the third anniversary of the date on which the Growth Plan comes into effect.
[3] Growth Plan, Sections and
[4] Planning Act applications made under Section 26 require approval from the province. Upper-and single-tier municipalities are the approval authority for amendments made under Section 17.
[5] As a quasi-judicial provincial body, the Ontario Municipal Board has the authority to rule on the disputed portions of an amendment. A decision by the OMB is final except in the event of an error in law, at which point the OMB decision may be appealed to Ontario Divisional Court.
[6] Growth Plan, Sections; 5.2;; 6.2.3; and 6.4.4.
[7] Municipalities have local planning authority provided by the province through the Planning Act. The Act requires municipalities to (among other things) develop an Official Plan in consultation with the community to control land use and to guide growth and development within the municipality. The Planning Act also requires municipalities to review their Official Plan every five years to make sure that it is consistent with provincial legislation, policies and plans. If the Official Plan does not conform to provincial policy, it must be amended and updated to conform.
[8] Growth Plan, Section
[9] The method of converting growth forecasts to land needs is not specified in the Growth Plan and therefore municipalities may use a number of different approaches to convert growth forecasts to land requirements. This point is explained further in Chapter 3, section 3.2.5 of this report.
[10] Growth Plan, Section 5.3.1.
[11] Growth Plan, Section