Mayors, province reviving northeast Avalon Regional Plan

Mayors from municipalities across the northeast Avalon will meet with Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Steve Kent on Monday to discuss how to get its regional plan back on track.
Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms said a plan for the Northeast Avalon "slid off the priority list." (CBC)

Mayors from municipalities across the northeast Avalon will meet with Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Steve Kent on Monday to discuss how to get its regional plan back on track.

The Northeast Avalon Regional (NEAR) Plan, which was started back in 2009, is a document that would guide development, infrastructure and land use across 15 municipalities, including growth areas like St. John's, Conception Bay South and Paradise.

The document would address issues like settlement and development needs, natural environment considerations, and transportation.

It would replace the St. John's Urban Regional Plan, which has been in use since 1976.

"We need a new regional plan for the region," Hugh Donnan, communications director for the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, wrote in an email.

Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms said the old plan has served the region well, but it's time for the document to be updated.

"Every time you turn around, somebody is talking about, you know, all of the municipal realities on the northeast Avalon that can lead to tension or can lead to a mish-mash, if you will, of possible development opportunities that lead to conflict," he said.

"The idea here is to bring in some regional planning that will actually uniform or harmonize what people are doing when they're doing developments that have impacts on each other."

Delayed plans

In 2009, the department estimated it would take about two years to complete the NEAR Plan, at a cost of about $500,000, which would be paid for on a 50-50 basis by the province and the municipalities.

Included in that amount was the cost of hiring a consulting firm, CBCL Limited, to help develop the plan and provide support to the leadership committee.

A 2011 report stated that plan would take three years to complete. The goal was to submit a completed version of the plan to the minister of municipal affairs for approval by March 31, 2014.

But the leadership committee's 2011-2012 annual report said the group fell short of meeting its objectives that year, stating they were "unable to agree on a position with respect to a vision statement." 

Simms said the plan then "slid off the priority list."

But the provincial government said it hopes to get the ball rolling once again with the meeting on Monday.

"Ideally, the municipalities themselves will work together to arrive at such a plan," Donnan wrote. "The Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs is prepared to support them throughout this process, as required, to ensure progress occurs in a timely manner."

Simms said he's looking forward to getting back to the plan, but wonders where they will start.

"The question for us really will be, when we speak to the minister, is to get an idea from him as to whether or not he just wants to hit start and begin again from where we ended, or does he want to start over?" he said.

"My recommendation will be that we actually just start over, and do this again with a fresh strategy, a fresh organization ... as opposed to go back 18 months and try to re-work something that was not satisfactory in the first place."

Simms said he hopes to come out of Monday's meeting with a work plan in place.

"We look forward to getting down to it and getting it done," he said.