Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2017)
Learn about Ontario’s land use and resource management plan for the 190,000 hectares of land and water within the Oak Ridges Moraine.
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The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan is set out in Ontario Regulation (O. Reg.) 140/02 under the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001. This Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2017) includes a reproduction of that regulation and Introduction and Implementation sections. The official regulation can be viewed on the Province’s e-Laws website.
These Introduction and Implementation sections provide both an explanation of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and some additional information for users of the Plan that is not found in the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001 or the regulation that establishes the Plan. These sections do not form part of the regulation, but they will, when read along with the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001, and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, help users of the Plan understand how to apply the Plan and legislation.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in this document, the Act and the plan, as set out in O. Reg. 140/02, supersede these materials.
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 is home to people from every corner of the world and offers a high quality of life and diverse economy.
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, scenic landscapes and most productive farmland, including the Greenbelt which is comprised of the Oak Ridges Moraine, Niagara Escarpment and Protected Countryside areas. These natural areas clean the air, provide drinking water, support diverse habitat for flora and fauna including pollinators and provide opportunities for recreational activities that benefit public health and overall quality of life.
The First Nations and Métis communities within the Great Lakes region have a unique relationship with the land and its resources, which continues to shape the history and economy of the area today. Ontario, including the area covered by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation 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 value to the planning decisions being made today.
The lands to which the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan apply are also subject to the Greenbelt Plan. The Greenbelt Plan, together with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, builds on the Provincial Policy Statement to establish a land use planning framework for the GGH that supports a thriving economy, a clean and healthy environment and social equity.
The Growth Plan 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 future generations. The Greenbelt Plan, together with this Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan, 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 and found within the Oak Ridges Moraine.
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 goals of net-zero communities. Greenhouse gas emissions can be offset by carbon sinks found in the Oak Ridges Moraine, which can include agricultural lands, green infrastructure and other natural areas.
The Rouge River watershed is of particular significance because of the extensive public investment in establishing Rouge National Urban Park, the efforts of all levels of government in preparing past and current plans in the Rouge watershed and the Park, and the environmental restoration and sustainability efforts within both the watershed and the Park.
The Rouge watershed and the Little Rouge River serve as a vital ecological corridor linking the environmental systems of Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine in this area of the Greater Toronto Area.
Rouge National Urban Park has been established for the purposes of protecting and presenting for current and future generations the agricultural, natural and cultural heritage of the Park and its diverse landscapes.
Ontario will work collaboratively with Parks Canada, municipalities and other relevant agencies and organizations to ensure ecological integrity is the first management priority for the Rouge National Urban Park while also supporting ongoing agricultural activities and sustainable farming practices.
About the Oak Ridges Moraine
The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan is an ecologically based Plan that provides land use and resource management direction for the 190,000 hectares of land and water within the Moraine.
The Oak Ridges Moraine is one of Ontario’s most significant landforms. This irregular ridge stretches 160 kilometres from the Trent River in the east to the Niagara Escarpment in the west. The Escarpment, the Moraine and the Greenbelt Plan’s Natural Heritage System together form the foundation of south-central Ontario’s natural heritage and green space systems. Strategically located north of and parallel to Lake Ontario, the Moraine divides the watersheds draining south into western Lake Ontario from those draining north into Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe and the Trent River system. The Moraine shapes the present and future form and structure of the Greater Toronto region, and its ecological functions are critical to the region’s continuing health.
The Moraine has a unique concentration of environmental, geological and hydrological features that make its ecosystem vital to south-central Ontario, including:
- clean and abundant water resources
- healthy and diverse plant and animal habitat
- an attractive and distinct landscape
- prime agricultural areas
- sand and gravel resources close to market
Authority to establish the Plan
The authority for the Minister to establish the plan comes from the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001.
Purpose of the Plan
The purpose of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan is to provide land use and resource management planning direction to provincial ministers, ministries, and agencies, municipalities, landowners and other stakeholders on how to protect the Moraine’s ecological and hydrological features and functions.
The Vision for the Oak Ridges Moraine
The vision for the Oak Ridges Moraine is that of "a continuous band of green rolling hills that provides form and structure to south-central Ontario, while protecting the ecological and hydrological features and functions that support the health and well-being of the region’s residents and ecosystems."
The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001 establishes the following objectives for the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan:
- protecting the ecological and hydrological integrity of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area;
- ensuring that only land and resource uses that maintain, improve or restore the ecological and hydrological functions of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area are permitted;
- maintaining, improving or restoring all the elements that contribute to the ecological and hydrological functions of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area, including the quality and quantity of its water and its other resources;
- ensuring that the Oak Ridges Moraine Area is maintained as a continuous natural landform and environment for the benefit of present and future generations;
- providing for land and resource uses and development that are compatible with the other objectives of the Plan;
- providing for continued development within existing urban settlement areas and recognizing existing rural settlements;
- providing for a continuous recreational trail through the Oak Ridges Moraine Area that is accessible to all including persons with disabilities;
- providing for other public recreational access to the Oak Ridges Moraine Area
- any other prescribed objectives;
Land Use Designations
The plan divides the Moraine into four land use designations: Natural Core Areas (38% of the Moraine), Natural Linkage Areas (24% of the Moraine), Countryside Areas (30% of the Moraine) and Settlement Areas (8% of the Moraine).
- Natural Core Areas protect those lands with the greatest concentrations of key natural heritage features which are critical to maintaining the integrity of the Moraine as a whole. Only existing uses, agricultural uses and very restricted new resource management, low intensity recreational, home businesses, and infrastructure uses are allowed in these areas.
- Natural Linkage Areas protect critical natural and open space linkages between the Natural Core Areas and along rivers and streams. The only uses that are allowed are those allowed in Natural Core Areas, plus some aggregate resource operations.
- Countryside Areas provide an agricultural and rural transition and buffer between the Natural Core Areas and Natural Linkage Areas and the urbanized Settlement Areas. Prime agricultural areas as identified in the Agricultural System referred to in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Greenbelt Plan, as well as natural features are protected. Uses typically allowed in agricultural and other rural areas are allowed here to support agriculture and the rural economy. Existing public service facilities in Countryside Areas should be maintained and adapted to meet the needs of the community, where feasible.
- Within the Countryside Areas, the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Use Designation Map also identifies and delineates Rural Settlements. These are existing hamlets or similar small, generally long established communities that are identified in official plans.
- Policies on creating and developing new lots in Natural Core Areas, Natural Linkage Areas and Countryside Areas are very restrictive. Exceptions are permitted in the Moraine's Rural Settlements, the Palgrave Estates Community, and for limited residential development in Countryside Areas in the City of Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough and Northumberland Counties once the municipality has an approved growth management study and a rural economic development strategy, as well as a water budget and water conservation plan.
- Settlement Areas reflect a range of existing communities planned by municipalities to reflect community needs and values. Urban uses and development as set out in municipal official plans are allowed.
Some Key Land Use Policies
Environmental Protection – Protecting Moraine Integrity
The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan is an ecologically and hydrologically based plan. The plan’s Natural Core Area and Natural Linkage Area designations are considered the natural heritage system for the Moraine. These areas have the highest concentration of natural heritage features and provide a continuous east-west ecological connection across the entire Plan Area. Over 85 per cent of the key natural heritage features are within Natural Core Areas or Natural Linkage Areas. This system links with the natural heritage systems of the Greenbelt Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan that extend into the Greater Golden Horseshoe and beyond.
The Plan identifies key natural heritage features (such as wetlands and woodlands) and key hydrologic features (such as kettle lakes and springs). In Natural Core Areas, Natural Linkage Areas and Countryside Areas, only very restricted new resource management, recreational and infrastructure uses are permitted within these features. Development near these key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features is only allowed if it will not adversely affect these features. In areas with significant landscape character (called landform conservation areas) in Natural Core Areas, Natural Linkage Areas and Countryside Areas, development will have to meet particularly stringent review and approval standards to ensure that the Moraine is protected.
The Plan provides policies to protect water quality and quantity across the Moraine. The plan’s water resource policies require municipalities to prepare watershed plans, water budgets and water conservation plans to incorporate into their official plans within specified time periods. Restrictions on large scale development are imposed if this work is not completed. Development in wellhead protection areas and areas highly vulnerable to groundwater contamination is limited. Limitations are also set on impervious surfaces in areas outside Settlement Areas.
The province is also developing an agricultural system for the Greater Golden Horseshoe which aims to protect a continuous productive agricultural land base and a complementary Agri-food Network that together enable the agri-food sector to thrive. An agricultural system has two components: the agricultural land base and the agri-food network. The agricultural land base is comprised of prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, as well as rural lands where active agricultural and related activities are ongoing. The Agri-food Network includes infrastructure, services and agri-food assets important to the viability of the sector.
In the context of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, prime agricultural areas are frequently found within the Countryside Area designation, but portions of the Natural Core Area and Natural Linkage Area designations may also have prime agricultural areas. In the context of implementing the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, it is important to understand that prime agricultural areas in the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Area should be identified in accordance with the broader Agricultural System, once established, recognizing both the agricultural land base and Agri-food Network components. Linkages to the Agricultural System outside of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area should also be considered.
The Oak Ridges Moraine contains a range of settlements that vary significantly in both size and population, economic activity, diversity/intensity of uses, the type(s) of water and sewage services and the role they play within their municipalities. They are designated as Settlement Areas or identified as Rural Settlements within the Countryside Area of the Pan. Land use patterns within Settlement Areas will support the development of complete communities working towards low-carbon communities, including the long-term goal of net-zero communities. The development of complete communities will, in part, be achieved by facilitating the development of community hubs that involve the co-location of public services to address local community needs to convenient locations that are accessible by active transportation and where available, transit.
There is already extensive local and regional infrastructure in the Oak Ridges Moraine to serve its settlements, agricultural and resource sectors and the rural economy. Existing infrastructure must be maintained and new infrastructure will be needed to continue serving existing and permitted land uses in the Oak Ridges Moraine. In addition, major infrastructure serving national, provincial and inter-regional needs traverses the Oak Ridges Moraine. It is also anticipated that new and/or expanded facilities will be needed in the future to serve the substantial growth projected for southern Ontario.
In the Oak Ridges Moraine, new infrastructure corridors or facilities shall only be allowed in the Natural Core Areas and Natural Linkage Areas if they are shown to be necessary and there is no reasonable alternative. They shall also have to meet stringent review and approval standards.
Planning for growth will need to be undertaken in a manner that is integrated and co-ordinated with land use and master planning, while also ensuring that infrastructure is financially viable over its life cycle through asset management plans.
Climate change also poses a critical challenge for maintaining existing infrastructure and planning for new infrastructure. By increasing the resiliency of infrastructure and encouraging the use of green infrastructure, municipalities can reduce the risk of harm to life and property and decrease the need for costly repairs or replacement resulting from extreme weather events. Infrastructure vulnerability risk assessment and climate change adaptation strategies can help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Culture, Recreation and Tourism
While providing ecological and hydrological protection, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan also recognizes the Moraine’s important natural, cultural heritage and agricultural resources, and supports recreation and tourism uses, as appropriate.
The Plan supports the identification, conservation, use and wise management of cultural heritage resources, including archaeological resources, to support the social, economic and cultural well-being of all communities, including First Nations and Métis communities.
New major recreation developments may be permitted in the Countryside Areas subject to meeting stringent review and approval standards.
The trail system through the Oak Ridges Moraine shall provide non-motorized, accessible recreational access through the Moraine to link with a system of parklands, water bodies, open spaces and trails across the Greenbelt.
The plan recognizes that mineral aggregates are a non-renewable resource in the Moraine. In Natural Linkage Areas and Countryside Areas, new aggregate resource operations are required to meet stringent review and approval standards, including requirements for rehabilitation. No new aggregate resource extraction is permitted in Natural Core Areas.
How to Read this Plan
The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan consists of:
Part I, General: Describes how the Plan applies, existing uses, previously authorized uses and exceptions regarding site plan approval. It also defines planning or technical terms used throughout the Plan.
Part II, Land Use Designations: Describes the purpose, objectives, permitted uses for each of the Moraine’s four land use designations, and lot creation policies for Countryside Areas.
Part III, Protecting Ecological and Hydrological Integrity: Identifies the Moraine’s key natural, hydrological and landform features and describes specific planning, design and development restrictions and requirements that need to be met to protect the integrity of those features.
Part IV, Specific Land Use Policies: Identifies specific planning, design and development restrictions and requirements that may need to be met for specific uses and activities. It also provides policies on lot creation.
Part V, Prescribed Provisions: Identifies the sections of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001 that apply to Natural Core Areas, Natural Linkage Areas and Countryside Areas for the purposes of transition, according to subsection 15(2) of the Act.
Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Land Use Designation Map: Shows the four designations and the Rural Settlements described in Part II.
How to Use this Plan
To find out how this Plan affects a specific area or land use or development proposal on the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Plan regulation must be read in its entirety as follows:
- consult the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Land Use Designation Map to determine what designation applies to the area
- consult Part II to see the policies for that designation and consult Part III to determine any restrictions or requirements that shall be considered to protect ecological and hydrological integrity
- consult Part IV to determine any additional restrictions or requirements that may apply for the specific use or activity being considered
- consult Part V to determine the prescribed provisions that apply pursuant to subsection 15(2) of the Act
- remember that Part I (General) applies to all development proposals and land uses, including site alteration
Users of this Plan also need to consult with the appropriate municipality for information on official plan policies and any other municipal requirements. The Plan is not intended to replace the community planning principles reflected in municipal official plans. However, in the event that there is a conflict, the Act and the Plan take precedence.
Status and Effect of the Plan
The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001, provides for the establishment of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan as a Minister’s regulation. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001, requires that all decisions on planning applications shall conform with the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.
This Plan shall be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Ontario government shall consult with First Nations and Métis communities on decisions concerning the use of Crown land and resources that may affect Aboriginal and treaty rights within the area of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.
Through the legislation and the plan, the Ontario Government has set a clear policy framework for protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine. This is in keeping with the provincial land use planning system within which municipalities are responsible for implementing provincial policy through their official plans and when making decisions on development applications. The success of this policy framework centres on effective collaboration with the province, other levels of government, First Nations and Métis communities, residents, private and non-profit sectors across all industries, and other stakeholders.
The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001 directs municipalities to bring their official plans into conformity with the plan. Municipal planning decisions shall also conform with this Plan, which takes precedence over municipal official plans. Nothing in this Plan is intended to prevent municipalities from adopting official plan policies and zoning by-law provisions that are more restrictive than the policies of this Plan, except where prohibited by this Plan or where it conflicts with other provincial plans.
Municipalities are encouraged to engage the public, First Nations and Métis communities, and stakeholders in local efforts to implement this Plan and to provide the necessary information to ensure the informed involvement of local citizens.
Planning authorities are encouraged to co-ordinate planning matters with First Nations and Métis communities throughout the planning process.
Municipalities are encouraged to build constructive, cooperative relationships with First Nations and Métis communities and to facilitate knowledge sharing in growth management and land use planning processes.
Municipalities are encouraged to develop additional policies for the Oak Ridges Moraine that support, complement, or exceed the policies of this Plan except where prohibited by this Plan or where it conflicts with other provincial plans.
Relationship of the Plan to the Land Use Planning System
The Oak Ridges Moraine is governed by the planning policy and regulation of various levels of government and agencies, which work collectively to manage and guide land use within the Oak Ridges Moraine.
The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan builds upon the existing policy framework established in the Provincial Policy Statement and is to be implemented through land use planning decisions and instruments, particularly municipal official plans.
This Plan uses a number of similar terms as the Provincial Policy Statement and definitions for these terms are based on the Provincial Policy Statement for the same terms. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan also relies on municipal official plan mapping to delineate prime agricultural areas and the detailed boundaries of rural areas and settlement areas.
In addition to the Provincial Policy Statement and municipal official plans and related planning mechanisms (e.g. zoning, subdivision of land), conservation authorities, other agencies and the Federal Government have regulations or standards that apply in the Oak Ridges Moraine, such as the Conservation Authorities Act or the federal Rouge National Urban Park Act. An application, matter or proceeding related to these regulations or standards may require consideration of the policies of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan together with other provincial plans, where applicable.
Rouge National Urban Park will play a role in linking Lake Ontario with the Oak Ridges Moraine. Upon lands being transferred to the Park they will become federally administered, the Rouge National Urban Park Act and Management Plan will be the guiding documents and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan or other provincial plans/policies will not apply. Until such transfers, provincial plans and policies continue to apply, and will continue to apply to lands not proposed for transfer, such as roads, hydro corridors and other public and private lands.
Based on the above, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan must be read in conjunction with all other applicable land use planning policy, regulations and/or standards, as amended from time to time. Such documents include but are not limited to: the Provincial Policy Statement; Minister’s zoning orders under the Planning Act; other provincial land use plans; upper, lower and single-tier municipal official plans; zoning by-laws; other pertinent legislation (e.g. the federal Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Endangered Species Act, 2007, etc.) and regulations (e.g. those under the Conservation Authorities Act).
The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan itself must also be read in its entirety as existing or proposed land uses may be subject to policies within different sections of the plan. Where multiple policies apply, these are to be applied in either a cumulative or integrated manner, such that all of the policies that relate to a matter are addressed, with the more specific or restrictive policy applying where there are conflicts. Policies are not meant to be read in isolation or to the exclusion of the rest of the policies, both general and specific. As well, the Land Use Designation map within the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan needs to be read to determine the applicable policies within the plan relating to the various designations, information and/or boundaries shown on the map.
Guidance material and technical guidelines may be issued from time to time to assist planning authorities and 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 the plan.
Performance Indicators and Monitoring
The Province will work with its public sector partners, including municipalities and agencies, other stakeholders and First Nation and Métis communities to compile and share the base of information that is needed to support the ongoing monitoring of the implementation of this Plan. The Province will monitor the implementation of this Plan, including reviewing performance indicators concurrent with any review of this Plan.
Municipalities will monitor and report on the implementation of this Plan’s policies within their municipality, in accordance with any data standards and any other guidelines that may be issued by the Province.
The Province may require municipalities to provide information and/or data to the Province to demonstrate progress made towards the implementation of this Plan.
The Oak Ridges Moraine Area designated under the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001 is shown on the Plan of the Boundary of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area (a series of 18 sheets) established by O. Reg. 1/02.
The legislation allows the Minister, by regulation, to establish the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan for all or part of this Oak Ridges Moraine Area.
The outer boundary of this Oak Ridges Moraine Area generally follows the boundary originally described in publications prepared by the Ontario government in 1990 and 1991. This boundary is based on a number of topographical, geomorphological and geological attributes, including the 245 metre (above sea level) contour along the southern boundary of the Moraine from the Town of Richmond Hill to the eastern boundary of the Municipality of Clarington.
It has been more precisely defined in O. Reg. 1/02 by the Surveyor General employing a method of survey which uses UTM co-ordinates. The Plan of the Boundary of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area provides the information for establishing the boundary on the ground by a licensed Ontario Land Surveyor, under instructions from the Surveyor General for the Province of Ontario.
The plan applies to the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Area designated by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Land Use Designation Map and shows the boundaries of the land use designations and the Rural Settlements and their boundaries.
The southern boundary of the Plan Area that lies between Bathurst Street in the Town of Richmond Hill and the eastern limit of the municipality of Clarington may be more precisely defined pursuant to the plan as being those lands north of the 245 metre contour as surveyed and contained within the Oak Ridges Moraine Area boundary noted above.
Where, through this process lands are within the Oak Ridges Moraine Area but are not governed by the policies of this Plan, such lands are deemed to be within the Protected Countryside of the Greenbelt Plan and all of the polices of the Greenbelt Plan apply to the lands unless the lands:
- would be subject to the Countryside or Settlement Area designations if this Plan applied
- do not connect the lands subject to this Plan to the Protected Countryside
Plan Review and Amendment
The plan shall be reviewed every 10 years to determine whether any revisions should be made. The 10-year review of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan will be co-ordinated with the reviews of the Greenbelt Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan.
During a review, the Minister shall consult with affected ministries, public bodies, municipalities, and First Nations and Métis communities and ensure that the public is given an opportunity to participate.
The review could result in amendment(s), if appropriate, to:
- include new, updated, or corrected information
- improve the effectiveness and relevance of its policies
- reflect changed or new priorities of the Ontario government
The 10-year review cannot consider removing land from the Natural Core Areas and Natural Linkage Areas.
A 10-year review of the plan shall consider:
- the need to change or refine the boundaries of the Countryside Areas and Settlement Areas
- the continued effectiveness and relevance of the plan’s vision, purpose, objectives and policies
- the effectiveness of the plan’s policies in meeting the plan’s vision, purpose and objectives
- new, updated, or corrected information
- new science, technologies, or practices that shall improve the plan’s effectiveness
- any other matter that the Ontario government deems appropriate
Settlement Area Expansions
An upper-tier or single-tier municipality may consider the need to change or refine the boundaries of Settlement Areas as part of a municipal comprehensive review undertaken in accordance with policy 2.2.8 of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Settlement Area boundaries are not permitted to expand into Natural Core Areas or Natural Linkage Areas.