The Planning Act (the Act) is provincial legislation that sets out the ground rules for land use planning in Ontario. It describes how land uses may be controlled, and who may control them.

The purpose of the Act is to:

  • provide for planning processes that are fair by making them open, accessible, timely and efficient
  • promote sustainable economic development in a healthy natural environment within a provincial policy framework
  • provide for a land use planning system led by provincial policy
  • integrate matters of provincial interest into provincial and municipal planning decisions by requiring that all decisions be consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and conform/not conflict with provincial plans
  • encourage co-operation and coordination among various interests
  • recognize the decision-making authority and accountability of municipal councils in planning

The Act provides the basis for:

  • considering provincial interests, such as providing for a full range of housing options, including affordable housing, and protecting and managing our natural resources
  • preparing official plans and planning policies that will guide future development
  • using a variety of tools, based on municipal discretion, to help plan for the future
  • establishing a streamlined planning process which emphasizes local autonomy in decision-making
  • exempting official plans and official plan amendments from provincial or upper-tier approval (See section 2, Official plans)
  • regulating and controlling land uses through zoning bylaws and minor variances (See section 3, Zoning bylaws)
  • dividing land into separate lots for sale or development through a plan of subdivision or a land severance (See section 4, Subdivisions and section 5, Land severances)
  • ensuring the rights of local citizens to be notified about planning proposals, to give their views to their municipal council and, where permitted, to appeal decisions to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) or in some cases, a municipal local appeal body (LAB) where a LAB has been established by a municipality. The OLT and LAB are independent administrative tribunals responsible for hearing appeals and deciding on a variety of contentious municipal matters (See section 6, Ontario Land Tribunal)
  • establishing local planning administration, including planning boards in Northern Ontario (See section 7, Northern Ontario)
  • providing that provincial appeals can only be made through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (See section 9, The plan review and approval process)

The role of the province

The province:

  • issues provincial policy statements under the Planning Act
  • promotes provincial interests, such as:  
    • providing for adequate housing and employment opportunities
    • protecting farmland, natural resources and the environment
    • promoting development that is designed to be sustainable, supportive of public transit and designed for the needs of pedestrians
  • prepares provincial plans (for example, A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Greenbelt Plan, and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan)
  • provides one-window planning service to municipalities through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the primary provincial contact for advice and information on land use planning issues
  • gives advice to municipalities and the public on land use planning issues
  • administers local planning controls and gives approval where required
  • through the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, makes minister’s zoning orders and community infrastructure and housing accelerator orders at the request of a municipality

The role of municipalities

The municipality:

  • makes local planning decisions that will determine the future of communities
  • prepares planning documents, such as:
    • an official plan, which sets out the municipality's general planning goals and policies that will guide future land use
    • zoning bylaws, which set the rules and regulations that control development as it occurs
  • ensures planning decisions and planning documents are consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and conform or do not conflict with provincial plans

Under the Planning Act, municipalities can put approval processes in place that help make planning work clearer and faster, where it is possible and appropriate.

The Planning Act also gives planning boards in Northern Ontario the power to adopt official plans and pass zoning bylaws for areas without municipal organization within their planning areas.

Upper-tier municipalities (such as counties and regional/district municipalities) as well as planning boards deal with broad land use planning issues that concern more than one local municipality. All upper-tier municipalities have their own official plans and have the power to approve local official plans, in place of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Some of these upper-tier municipalities are also the approval authority for plans of subdivision.

Contact your municipality to determine the approval authority for official plans and plans of subdivision in your area.

The Provincial Policy Statement

Under the Planning Act, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing may issue provincial statements on matters related to land use planning that are of provincial interest.

The Provincial Policy Statement, 2020 (PPS) applies provincewide and contains policy direction related to:

  • growth and development
  • the use and management of resources
  • the protection of the environment
  • public health and safety

Municipalities are the primary implementers of PPS policies through:

  • official plans
  • zoning bylaws
  • decisions on other planning matters

Below is a description of the three main policy sections in the PPS:

Building strong, healthy communities

The PPS provides policy direction to help build strong, healthy communities in Ontario. For example, to help achieve strong communities where people want to live, work and play, the PPS provides policies for:

  • the efficient use of land and infrastructure
  • an appropriate range and mix of housing options, including affordable housing, and densities (the number of people, jobs, and building floor area per hectare) to meet the needs of current and future residents
  • the protection of employment areas to promote economic development and competitiveness
  • the promotion of healthy, integrated and viable rural areas

Wise management of resources

The PPS includes strong policy direction to protect the province’s natural heritage (such as wetlands and woodlands), water, agricultural, mineral, cultural heritage (such as structures and landscapes) and archaeological resources. Protecting these important resources will help ensure Ontario’s long-term prosperity, environmental health and social well-being.

Protecting public health and safety

The PPS protects Ontario communities through policies directing development away from areas of natural or human-made hazards where there is an unacceptable risk to public health or safety, or property damage. It also provides for the consideration of the potential impacts of climate change (for example, flooding due to severe weather) that may increase the risk associated with natural hazards.

Applying the PPS

Generally, when decision-makers exercise any authority that affects planning matters, 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. Decision makers implement the PPS in the context of other planning objectives and local circumstances. However, a minister’s zoning order is not required to be consistent with the PPS and can take other considerations into account.

How the Planning Act works

Municipal councils, landowners, developers, planners and the public play an important role in shaping a community. Community planning is aimed at identifying common community goals and balancing competing interests.

The central activity in planning a community is making an official plan, a document which guides future development of an area in the best interest of the community as a whole.

Your municipal council must give you as much information as possible when preparing its official plan and, in some cases, must hold a public open house to let the public review, ask questions and provide suggestions or comments about the plan. Before it adopts the plan, council must hold at least one public meeting where you can formally give your opinion. It is up to council to decide the best way to let people know about the meeting, but notice must be given at least 20 days ahead of time, either through local newspapers or by mail and posted notice.

The Act gives municipalities flexibility to tailor their notices (for example, who receives notice and how it is given) for a broad range of matters, including:

Your municipal council can develop a notice process that is different from what is set out in the Planning Act, but must be set out in the official plan. 

Your municipal council can also consider how to meet the Planning Act’s requirements using electronic and virtual channels to engage and solicit feedback from the public on land use planning matters. This may include a mixture of technologies to meet local public needs (for example, webinars, video conferencing, moderated teleconference).

The Act encourages early upfront involvement and the use of mediation techniques to resolve conflict. Make sure you make your views known early in the planning process. If you do not, you are not eligible to appeal certain types of planning decisions.

The Planning Act contains similar procedures for changes to the official plan, for zoning bylaw amendments and approval of plans of subdivision.

Get involved

You can be an important part of the land use planning process by keeping informed about what's going on in your community and by participating in public meetings.

Your input will help your municipal council make better decisions that affect your future. If you are concerned about all or any part of a planning proposal or policy change, you should:

  • find out as much as you can about the proposal
  • think about how it will affect you
  • talk to your neighbours
  • go to public meetings, open houses and information sessions and let council know what you think
  • write to your council member or the municipal officials about your views
  • work with council and municipal staff to resolve your concerns

Finally, if you are not happy with council's decisions on planning issues, in some instances you may appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal for a public hearing. To ensure that your appeal rights are protected, it is important that you make your views known during the municipal decision-making process.

For more information about your rights to appeal, see section 6, the Ontario Land Tribunal, and the sections that deal with specific types of planning documents.