Learn how the Greenbelt Plan protects agricultural lands, water resources and natural areas in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe region.
The Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) is one of the most dynamic and fast growing regions in North America – it is currently home to over two-thirds of Ontario’s and more than one-quarter of Canada’s population. The region attracts people from around the world, offering a diverse economy and a high quality of life.
The GGH is located in the heart of the Great Lakes region. It contains many of Canada’s most ecologically and hydrologically significant natural environments and scenic landscapes, including the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment. These natural areas clean the air, provide drinking water, provide diverse flora and fauna habitats, including pollinators, and they provide opportunities for recreational activities that benefit public health and overall quality of life.
The region also has some of Canada’s most important and productive farmland. Its fertile soil, moderate climate and abundant water resources support agricultural production that cannot be duplicated elsewhere in the province and the country.
The Greenbelt was introduced in 2005 to help shape the future of this region. The Greenbelt is the cornerstone of Ontario's Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan (Growth Plan) which is an overarching strategy that provides clarity and certainty about urban structure, where and how future growth should be accommodated and what must be protected for current and future generations.
The Greenbelt Plan, together with the ORMCP and the NEP, identifies where urbanization should not occur in order to provide permanent protection to the agricultural land base and the ecological and hydrological features, areas and functions occurring on this landscape.
The Greenbelt Plan includes lands within, and builds upon the ecological protections provided by, the Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP) and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (ORMCP).
The Greenbelt Plan, together with the Growth Plan, the NEP and the ORMCP, builds on the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) to establish a land use planning framework for the GGH that supports a thriving economy, a clean and healthy environment and social equity.
These plans work in concert with Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy, 2015, the government’s commitment to meet its long-term targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Protecting agricultural lands, water resources and natural areas, supporting the achievement of complete communities that are compact, walkable and, where appropriate, transit-supportive will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and work towards low-carbon communities, and the long-term goal of net-zero communities. Greenhouse gas emissions can be offset by carbon sinks found in the Greenbelt, which can include agricultural lands, green infrastructure and other natural areas.
The First Nations and Métis communities within the Great Lakes region are essential partners. They have a unique relationship with the land and its resources. Ontario, including the area covered by the Greenbelt Plan, is largely covered by a number of Treaties that provide for treaty rights. In addition, Aboriginal communities may have Aboriginal rights within the Plan area. Ontario recognizes the unique role that Indigenous peoples have had and will continue to have in the growth and development of this region. Through their historic relationship with the lands and resources, Indigenous communities have gained traditional knowledge that is of significant value to the planning decisions being made today.
The Greenbelt Plan complements and supports other provincial and federal level initiatives such as the Parkway Belt West Plan and the Rouge National Urban Park and Management Plan.
The Protected Countryside lands identified in the Greenbelt Plan are intended to enhance the spatial extent of agriculturally and environmentally protected lands covered by the NEP and the ORMCP while at the same time improving linkages between these areas and the surrounding major lake systems and watersheds. Collectively, the lands in these three plans form the Greenbelt. The Protected Countryside (as shown on Schedule 1 of this Plan) is made up of an Agricultural System and a Natural System, together with a series of settlement areas.
The Agricultural System is a group of inter-connected elements. It has two components: the agricultural land base, which is comprised of prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, and rural lands that together create a continuous, productive land base for agriculture, and the agri-food network, which includes infrastructure, services and assets important to the viability of the agri-food sector. The Natural System identifies lands that support both natural heritage and hydrologic features and functions, including providing for pollinator habitat, which is an essential support for agricultural production and for ecosystems. Both systems maintain connections to the broader agricultural and natural systems of southern Ontario.
Settlement areas, identified as Towns/Villages and Hamlets, vary in size, diversity and intensity of uses and are found throughout the Protected Countryside. The policies for these settlement areas support the achievement of complete communities that are healthier, safer, more equitable and more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
While providing permanent agricultural and environmental protection, the Greenbelt also contains important natural resources and supports a wide range of recreational and tourism uses, areas and opportunities together with a vibrant and evolving agricultural and rural economy.
The Greenbelt Plan is structured to provide for the inclusion of publicly owned lands in urban river valleys that were not in the Greenbelt at the time the Plan was approved in 2005. These lands, while not part of the Protected Countryside, are part of the Greenbelt and assist in recognizing the importance of connections to Lake Ontario and other areas in southern Ontario.
The schedules in this Plan show lands, settlement areas, roads and natural systems outside of the Greenbelt Area. This Plan does not apply to lands beyond the Greenbelt Area as shown on Schedule 1.
Within the vast majority of south-central Ontario and substantial portions of the GGH beyond the Greenbelt Area, there are extensive agricultural areas, natural and hydrologic features and functions and other significant resources. The lack of inclusion within the Greenbelt Area does not imply any lesser importance or recognition of the full array of natural environmental and resource attributes found in these areas. Rather, all lands outside of the Greenbelt Area will continue to be governed by current, and potentially future, planning frameworks and regimes which manage land use in Ontario. There may be specific areas identified in the future, including areas of ecological and hydrological significance, where it is considered appropriate to expand the Greenbelt to provide additional long-term protection. In addition, no preference for urban structure or the allocation of residential and employment growth beyond the Greenbelt should be inferred from the Greenbelt Plan, as it is intended that these matters be addressed by the planning system and particularly through the Growth Plan.
1.2 Vision and goals
The Greenbelt is a broad band of permanently protected land which:
- protects against the loss and fragmentation of the agricultural land base and supports agriculture as the predominant land use
- gives permanent protection to the natural heritage and water resource systems that sustain ecological and human health and that form the environmental framework around which major urbanization in south-central Ontario will be organized
- provides for a diverse range of economic and social activities associated with rural communities, agriculture, tourism, recreation and resource uses
- builds resilience to and mitigates climate change
The successful realization of this vision for the Greenbelt centres on effective collaboration among the Province, other levels of government, First Nations and Métis communities, residents, private and non-profit sectors across all industries and other stakeholders.
1.2.2 Protected Countryside goals
To enhance our urban and rural areas and overall quality of life by promoting the following matters within the Protected Countryside:
1. Agricultural viability and protection
- Protection of the specialty crop area land base while allowing agriculture-supportive infrastructure and value-added uses necessary for sustainable agricultural uses and activities;
- Support for the unique nature of specialty crop areas as our vital fruit and vegetable growing regions, which include:
- The Niagara Peninsula specialty crop area, a destination for and centre of agriculture focused on the agri-food sector and agri-tourism related to grape and tender fruit production; and
- The Holland Marsh specialty crop area, a centre of agriculture focused on the agri-food sector related to vegetable production;
- Protection of prime agricultural areas by preventing further fragmentation and loss of the agricultural land base caused by lot creation and the redesignation of prime agricultural areas;
- Provision of the appropriate flexibility to allow for agricultural, agriculture-related and on-farm diversified uses, normal farm practices and an evolving agricultural and rural economy;
- Increasing certainty for the agricultural sector to foster long-term investment in the agri-food network and improvement to and management of the agricultural land base; and
- Enhancing the strengths of the Agricultural System, including through consideration for the impacts of development on agriculture and planning for local food and near-urban agriculture.
2. Environmental protection
- Protection, maintenance and enhancement of natural heritage, hydrologic and landform features, areas and functions, including protection of habitat for flora and fauna and particularly species at risk;
- Protection and restoration of natural and open space connections between the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Niagara Escarpment, Lake Ontario, Lake Simcoe and the major river valley lands while also maintaining connections to the broader natural systems of southern Ontario beyond the GGH, such as the Great Lakes Coast, the Carolinian Zone, the Lake Erie Basin, the Kawartha Highlands and the Algonquin to Adirondacks Corridor;
- Protection, improvement or restoration of the quality and quantity of ground and surface water and the hydrological integrity of watersheds; and
- Provision of long-term guidance for the management of natural heritage and water resources when contemplating such matters as watershed/subwatershed and stormwater management planning, water and wastewater servicing, development, infrastructure, open space planning and management, aggregate rehabilitation and private or public stewardship programs.
3. Culture, recreation and tourism
- Identification, conservation, use and wise management of cultural heritage resources to support the social, economic and cultural well-being of all communities, including First Nations and Métis communities;
- Provision of a wide range of publicly accessible built and natural settings for recreation, including facilities, parklands, open space areas, trails and water-based/shoreline uses that support hiking, angling and other recreational activities; and
- Enabling continued opportunities for sustainable tourism development.
4. Settlement areas
- Support for a strong rural economy by allowing for the social, economic and service functions through the residential, institutional and commercial/industrial uses needed by the current and future population within the Greenbelt, particularly within settlement areas;
- Sustaining the character of the countryside and rural communities;
- Support for the achievement of complete communities that promote and enhance human health and social well-being, are economically and environmentally sustainable, moving towards low-carbon communities, with the long-term goal of net-zero communities; and
- Serving as centres for the development of community hubs where compatible services are co-located to address local needs in convenient locations that are accessible by active transportation and, where available, transit.
5. Infrastructure and natural resources
- Support for infrastructure which achieves the social and economic aims of the Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan and improves integration with land use planning while seeking to minimize environmental impacts;
- Recognition of the benefits of protecting renewable and non-renewable natural resources within the Greenbelt; and
- Provision for the availability and sustainable use of those resources critical to the region’s social, environmental, economic and growth needs.
6. Climate change
- Integrating climate change considerations into planning and managing the Agricultural System, Natural Heritage System and Water Resource System to improve resilience and protect carbon sequestration potential, recognizing that the Natural Heritage System is also a component of green infrastructure; and
- Integrating climate change considerations into planning and managing growth that includes incorporating techniques to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing the resilience of settlement areas and infrastructure within the Greenbelt.
1.2.3 Urban River Valley goals
To integrate the Greenbelt into urban areas that were not part of the Greenbelt's initial boundaries, by promoting the following matters within the Urban River Valley designation:
- protection of natural and open space lands along river valleys in urban areas which will assist in ecologically connecting the rest of the Greenbelt Area to the Great Lakes and other inland lakes
- protection of natural heritage and hydrologic features and functions along urban river valleys, including coastal wetlands
- conservation of cultural heritage resources
- provision of a gateway to the rural landscape of the Greenbelt
- provision of a range of natural settings on publicly owned lands for recreational, cultural and tourism uses, including parkland, open space land and trails
1.3 General authority
This Plan derives its authority from the Greenbelt Act, 2005, which authorizes the Lieutenant Governor in Council, by regulation, to designate an area of land as the Greenbelt Area. The Greenbelt Act, 2005 further authorizes the Lieutenant Governor in Council to establish the Greenbelt Plan for all or part of the Greenbelt Area.
The Greenbelt Plan applies to the lands delineated in Ontario Regulation 59/05 and shown on Schedule 1.
1.4 How to read this Plan
This Plan informs decision-making to permanently protect the agricultural land base and the ecological and hydrological features, areas and functions occurring on this landscape. Although primarily implemented through Ontario’s land use planning system, including official plans, this Plan is not solely a land use plan. Certain policies of this Plan contemplate implementation by both the Province and municipalities through other related tools, regulations, policies and guidelines.
This Plan consists of policies, schedules, definitions and appendices. It also includes non-policy contextual commentary to provide background and describe the purpose of the policies.
Relationship with the Provincial Policy Statement
The PPS provides overall policy direction on matters of provincial interest related to land use and development in Ontario and applies to the Greenbelt, except where this Plan or another provincial plan provides otherwise.
Like other provincial plans, this Plan builds upon the policy foundation provided by the PPS and provides additional and more specific land use planning policies to address issues facing specific geographic areas in Ontario. This Plan is to be read in conjunction with the PPS. The policies of this Plan take precedence over the policies of the PPS to the extent of any conflict, except where the relevant legislation provides otherwise. Where the policies of this Plan address the same, similar, related or overlapping matters as policies in the PPS, applying the more specific policies of this Plan satisfies the requirements of the more general policies in the PPS. In contrast, where matters addressed in the PPS do not overlap with policies in this Plan, those PPS policies must be independently satisfied.
Relationship with other provincial plans, legislation and regulation
This Plan must also be read in conjunction with other provincial plans, related planning mechanisms, regulations and standards of conservation authorities, other agencies and the federal government. This includes the Growth Plan, the ORMCP and the NEP as well as the Parkway Belt West Plan and the Central Pickering Development Plan. Other plans, including the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008 and some source protection plans under the Clean Water Act, 2006; upper-, lower- and single-tier official plans; zoning by-laws; Minister’s zoning orders under the Planning Act as well as other pertinent legislation (e.g. the federal Rouge Urban Park Act) and regulations (e.g. those under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 and Conservation Authorities Act) also apply within the Greenbelt.
Within the Greenbelt Area, there may be other provincial, federal or agency plans, regulations or standards that also apply. An application, matter or proceeding related to these plans, regulations or standards shall conform with the Greenbelt Plan. However, where the plans, regulations or standards are more restrictive than this Plan, the more restrictive provision shall prevail.
With respect to the Growth Plan specifically, the policies of that Plan that address the same, similar, related or overlapping matters as this Plan do not apply within the Greenbelt Area, except where the policies of this Plan provide otherwise. In contrast, where matters addressed in the Growth Plan do not overlap with policies in this Plan, those Growth Plan policies must be independently satisfied.
Read the entire Plan
This Plan is to be read in its entirety and the relevant policies are to be applied to each situation. The language of each policy will assist decision-makers in understanding how the policies are to be implemented. While some policies refer to other policies for ease of use, these cross-references do not take away from the need to read the Plan as a whole. There is no implied priority in the order in which the policies appear.
Consider specific policy language
Each policy provides direction on how it is to be implemented, how it is situated within this Plan and how it relates to other policies. The choice of language in the policies is intended to distinguish between the types of policies and the nature of implementation.
Policies represent minimum standards
The policies of this Plan represent minimum standards. Within the framework of the provincial policy-led planning system, decision-makers are encouraged to go beyond these minimum standards to address matters of importance, unless doing so would conflict with any policy of this Plan.
Defined terms and meanings
Italicized terms in this Plan are defined in section 7. For non-italicized terms, the normal meaning of the word applies. Defined terms are intended to capture both singular and plural forms of these terms in the policies.
Guidance material may be issued to assist decision makers with implementing the policies of this Plan. Information, technical criteria and approaches outlined in guidance material are meant to support, but not add to or detract from, the policies of this Plan.
1.4.2 Structure of the Plan
The Greenbelt Plan consists of:
Section 1 – Introduction: Describes the context for the Greenbelt Plan in southern Ontario and introduces the Plan’s Vision and Goals. The legislative authority for the Plan and how it is to be used and applied within the land use planning system are also set out in this section.
Section 2 – Greenbelt Plan: Describes the lands governed by the Greenbelt Plan, which include the NEP Area, the Oak Ridges Moraine Area, the Parkway Belt West Plan Area, lands designated as Urban River Valley and lands designated as Protected Countryside in this Plan. It describes how lands in the three other provincial plans and lands designated as Urban River Valley are affected by this Plan, and that lands designated as Protected Countryside within the Greenbelt Area are subject to the entire Greenbelt Plan except section 6.
Section 3 – Geographic-specific policies in the Protected Countryside: Sets out the three key inter-related policy areas in the Protected Countryside designation that are spatially based: the Agricultural System, the Natural System and settlement areas.
The Agricultural System is comprised of the agricultural land base (prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, and rural lands) and the agri-food network, which has components (infrastructure, services and assets) that support agricultural viability but is not a designation with a list of permitted uses. While the Greenbelt Plan identifies the boundaries of the specialty crop areas, it relies on official plans to further delineate prime agricultural areas and rural lands based on provincial mapping and guidance in accordance with section 5.3.
The Natural System is comprised of the Natural Heritage System, Water Resource System and key hydrologic areas, key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features. The Natural Heritage System is not a designation in and of itself with a list of permitted uses. Rather, it is an overlay on top of the prime agricultural area, including specialty crop areas, and rural lands designations contained in official plans. As such, permitted uses are those set out within the prime agricultural area and rural lands policies of this Plan and designations of official plans, subject to the Natural System policies of this Plan.
Settlement areas are comprised of Towns/Villages and Hamlets. Although this Plan shows boundaries for Towns/Villages, Hamlets are only shown as symbols. In both cases, this Plan defers to official plans for the detailed delineation of settlement area boundaries. Generally, this Plan does not apply to lands within the boundaries of Towns/Villages and Hamlets. Official plans will continue to govern land use within these settlement areas based on policy direction provided by the Growth Plan. However, where expansions to settlement areas are proposed in the Greenbelt, the policies of both this Plan and the Growth Plan apply to such expansions.
Lands in the Protected Countryside are within one of the following policy areas: specialty crop areas, prime agricultural areas, rural lands, Towns/Villages or Hamlets. In addition, lands may also be subject to the Natural Heritage System, Water Resource System, key hydrologic areas, key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features policies of this Plan.
Also described in this section are policies regarding parkland, open space and trails in the Greenbelt.
Section 4 – General policies in the Protected Countryside: Describes the general policies that apply across the Protected Countryside. These policies are based on certain uses (non-agricultural uses, recreation and tourism uses, infrastructure, natural resource uses, cultural heritage resources and existing uses). This section also contains policies on lot creation.
Section 5 – Implementation: Provides a description of:
- the status and effect of the Plan
- how the Plan is to be implemented
- how boundaries are to be interpreted
- the process for reviewing and amending the Plan
- monitoring and performance measures
- the Greenbelt Council
Section 6 – Urban River Valley policies: Sets out policies for the Urban River Valley designation that applies to publicly owned urban river valley lands brought into the Greenbelt by amendment after approval of the Plan in 2005.
Section 7 – Definitions: Sets out definitions used in the Plan.
1.4.3 How to use this Plan
The following is a brief description of how this Plan, read in its entirety, affects a specific area, land use or development, infrastructure or resource proposal.
- Refer to Schedule 1 to determine if the lands are located within the NEP Area or the Oak Ridges Moraine Area. If the property is located in either of these areas, the policies of the NEP or the ORMCP continue to apply as set out in section 2. Determine if the lands are located within the Parkway Belt West Plan. If so, the policies of the Parkway Belt West Plan continue to apply as set out in section 2. If the lands are located in the Protected Countryside designation, then the entirety of the Greenbelt Plan’s relevant policies apply.
Determine if the lands are located within the Urban River Valley designation on Schedule 1. If so, the specific policies set out in section 6 for the designation apply.
- If lands are within the Protected Countryside, determine which of the Geographic-Specific Policies apply as described in section 3. This is accomplished by a series of steps.
Refer to Schedules 1, 2 and 3 of this Plan to determine if the lands are located within a specialty crop area or a Town/Village or Hamlet. If lands are located in a specialty crop area, refer to the policies of this Plan. To determine the precise settlement area boundaries, reference should be made to official plans. If lands are located in a Town/Village or Hamlet, refer to the policies of the applicable official plan.
If the lands are not in a specialty crop area or Town/Village or Hamlet, determine in which municipality the lands are located and refer to the official plans that are in effect to determine if the lands are designated prime agricultural area or rural lands (or a similar designation). Once this determination is made, refer to the Agricultural System policies (section 3.1) to determine if there are any additional restrictions or requirements relating to prime agricultural areas or rural lands.
Refer to Schedule 4 of this Plan to determine if the lands are located within the Natural Heritage System, which is an overlay on top of the agricultural land base designations of the Agricultural System within official plans. If so, refer to the Natural System policies (section 3.2).
Refer to official plans, data or information on natural features from provincial, municipal and agency (e.g. conservation authority) sources, and conduct a preliminary assessment of the property to determine if there are any key natural heritage features, key hydrologic features or key hydrologic areas on the lands. If so, refer to the policies of sections 3.2.4 and 3.2.5.
- Determine which policies of section 4 may apply to the lands based on the type of use or whether lot creation is proposed.
- Determine how the policies of this Plan apply to matters that may be subject to transition under the provisions of the Greenbelt Act, 2005 in conjunction with the policies of section 5.
- Determine how the other policies of section 5 may apply to the lands, including whether there are any boundary interpretation policies to be considered. This includes, but is not limited to, the Rouge National Urban Park Management Plan, the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, the Great Lakes Protection Act, 2015, Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy and source protection plans under the Clean Water Act, 2006.