The plan review and approval process
Decision-making authority for land use planning matters
Traditionally, most land use planning decisions have been made by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and, in some cases, a municipality. To support local decision making in land use planning, the province has transferred far more approval authority to municipal councils and planning boards.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has prepared a table that summarizes where planning authority resides in Ontario.
The province retains a significant role in land use planning policy development, advocacy and oversight when provincial interests are at play.
Where the province continues to make planning decisions, a one window planning service for provincial input, review, approval and appeal of planning applications is in place.
The provincial One Window Planning Service is the process whereby the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing provides municipalities, planning boards, developers and the public with one-stop access for provincial planning services.
This one window approach provides a single provincial process which integrates the perspective of multiple ministries with land use planning interests.
Municipal plan review
Municipal plan review is the process of making decisions on planning applications where the municipality or planning board is responsible for making land use planning decisions. The province does not generally review and comment on planning applications under municipal plan review unless requested to do so.
Many municipalities and planning boards have the responsibility for making decisions on planning applications. In some instances, municipal council may delegate its authority to a committee of council or senior staff.
When a municipality or planning board makes these decisions, it must ensure that provincial interests are integrated in its consideration of local planning interests.
Protecting provincial interests
The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) which came into effect on May 1, 2020, contains policy directions on matters of provincial interest related to land use planning and development. When decision-makers exercise any authority that affects a planning matter, the Planning Act requires that they “shall be consistent with” the PPS. This means that a decision-maker must ensure that the policies in the PPS are applied as an essential part of the land use planning decision-making process. Refer to section 1, The Planning Act, for an explanation of the PPS and for a list of provincial interests.
The province shares land use data and technical information with the municipalities and planning boards. This information sharing and related training is an ongoing process that assists approval authorities in fulfilling their role under municipal plan review, including protecting provincial interests.
Appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal
Although decisions on a planning application can generally be appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is the only provincial ministry that can file appeals to the OLT.
When the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing launches an appeal of a municipal decision, the process is coordinated between other ministries with interests in land use planning to ensure that provincial policy positions are integrated to allow for a strong, coordinated case before the OLT.
For certain matters proceeding to the OLT, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing may declare that an official plan, official plan amendment, zoning bylaw, zoning bylaw amendment, or holding provision bylaw before the OLT may adversely affect a provincial interest. In such cases, after a hearing is held and the OLT renders a decision, the Lieutenant Governor in Council (the Cabinet) may confirm, vary or rescind the OLT’s decision on the matter.
Decision-making authority for different planning applications
The decision-making authority may vary depending on the municipality and the type of planning application. Contact your municipality to determine who approves your particular planning application.
Review of official plan amendments
The approval authority for official plans and plan amendments is either the upper-tier municipality (regional or county level of government) for lower-tier municipalities or the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for upper-tier and single-tier municipalities. They approve official plans and plan amendments, unless the plan or plan amendment is exempted from approval.
The local municipality reviews and considers official plan amendment applications. It will consult with the approval authority as part of this process. If the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is the approval authority, it will provide a One Window input and review service. If the upper-tier municipality is the approval authority, it will conduct a municipal plan review. It will review if the application is aligned with county/regional and provincial interests and policies, and provide a position to the local municipality. The upper-tier may ask for provincial input regarding provincial interests in proposed new local official plans and major policy amendments, using the provincial One Window Planning Service. Through this process, the ministry will review whether the application is aligned with provincial policies and plans (such as A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe) and provides consolidated provincial comments to the municipality.
If the official plan amendment is not exempt from approval, the approval authority will review if the adopted official plan amendment aligns with provincial policies and plans and, if applicable, upper-tier interests and policies and give notice of their decision.
Refer to section 2, Official plans for more information on official plans and amendments and the corresponding appeal process.
Review process for plans of subdivisions
Over time, more municipalities and planning boards have become the approval authorities for plans of subdivision. Through municipal plan review, they identify and protect provincial interests during their review and decisions on plans of subdivision. Provincial ministries may provide technical input where needed.
When the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is still the approval authority, it will provide a One Window input, review and approval service.
Review process for consent/severance applications
All authorities that are responsible for granting consents to sever land (such as, municipal council or its delegate, or planning board) provide municipal plan review services for consents. Provincial ministries do not perform site-specific reviews; however, they may still provide technical information where needed.
There is an exception in some parts of Northern Ontario where the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is still the authority responsible for granting consents. In such cases, it provides a One Window input, review and approval service.
Refer to section 5 for more information on land severances.
Review process for zoning bylaws
The municipal council decides whether to pass or refuse an amendment to its zoning bylaw. When a municipality undertakes site-specific rezoning, it will identify and protect provincial interests in its review and decision. There is no requirement for review by provincial ministries, allowing for greater local autonomy in zoning review and approval.
However, when a municipality undertakes a comprehensive zoning review (for example, zoning bylaw that covers everything within its jurisdiction), the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will act as the one window input and review body regarding provincial interests. Refer to section 3 for more information on zoning bylaws.
How the plan review process benefits you
The plan review process, which involves either municipal plan review or the provincial One Window Planning Service, benefits individuals involved in land use planning. It:
- saves time by reducing duplication between government agencies or ministries
- streamlines the process by having clearly defined roles and lines of communication
- allows for local decision making as an increasing number of municipalities or planning boards take on the responsibility for making decisions on planning applications
- provides clarity through a co-ordinated provincial position on planning applications