Hands OFF Ottawa Greenbelt
Environment Minister John Baird warned yesterday that the federal government has no interest in developing the Greenbelt, dismissing suggestions that its development would enhance environmental sustainability.
His warning, a day after a City of Ottawa white paper laid out three development options for more than 13,700 acres of the Greenbelt, casts serious doubts on any future plans to develop the city landmark.
The Greenbelt was first conceived by William Lyon Mackenzie King and finished by John Diefenbaker ... and I just don't think that from the position of elected representatives -- Liberal, Conservative, NDP -- there is any appetite to develop this treasure.
People should know that there is no appetite from the government for this type of idea.
The Citizen reported yesterday that the city has identified about a quarter of the Greenbelt, worth about $1.6 billion, that could be developed without damaging its integrity.
While the city's white paper is only laying out proposals for a discussion on the future of the belt, it said the land could provide more than 20 years of urban land for housing and employment and help stop, or at least slow down, urban sprawl.
Greenbelt land could be used for showpiece sustainable development that would set out a new vision for the city.
Ottawa residents have to ask themselves whether it makes sense to pave vital farmland on the fringes of the city, while protecting agricultural land inside the Greenbelt.
His report echoes the opinions of several environmental groups and experts, who have said that the Greenbelt has failed as an urban containment belt for which it was created. Some say it has actually fuelled sprawl.
It certainly hasn't had much impact at all in terms of density of suburban development. It did cause leapfrogging and more commuting.
Mr. Baird said the failure of the Greenbelt as an urban containment belt is no longer the issue. He said the belt is now as much a part of the city's history and heritage as the Rideau Canal, and every effort should be made to protect it.
"If we wanted to limit development inside the Greenbelt, we are 30 to 40 years too late," he said.
"There is no doubt that intensification would have environmental benefits, but paving the Greenbelt would be a huge negative. It is good to intensify, but the Greenbelt is a great natural resource and it should be off-limits."
Mr. Baird said the problem is that once development starts, there would be no end to it. He said people may argue that only small portions would be developed, but soon, 13,000 acres would turn into 50,000 acres and before anyone realizes, not much would be left.
If we just start to slice and dice it, next thing you know its integrity has been compromised.
The minister said the National Capital Commission and the city are within their rights to conduct their reviews, but that is no license for development. He said what's often forgotten is that the Greenbelt was expropriated from people who didn't want to sell, and the justification for forcibly removing them from their land was that it was all for the public good. It is now a public trust, and selling it off to the highest bidder would be a betrayal.
He worries that once a decision is made to siphon off parts for development, the original owners could come back and demand the return of their property.