The report says the city could save billions if it focuses on developing urban areas. (CBC)

A former finance director of the city of Halifax says a new report on urban sprawl is a wake up call as the region tries to expand services.

The study by Stantec says Halifax could save up to $3 billion over the next 18 years the city can get a handle on sprawl.

The study was conducted as part of a review of the municipality's regional plan.

The consultants looked at the costs of continually expanding services into suburban and rural areas.

They say the city could save the most money if it reaches a target of 50 per cent of all development in urban areas.

"This is a wakeup call," said Bernie Smith of the North End Business Association. Smith was the finance director of the city of Halifax, before amalgamation.

"This is counterproductive to see all this growth on the edges, which is straining all the municipal resources to service it."

Targets could save money

The consultants looked at the cost of expanding a wide range of municipal services including roads, garbage and sewage treatment. It also considers the environmental and health impacts of allowing more growth in suburban and rural areas.

The report said if HRM was able to meet the 25 per cent urban housing target it set in 2006, it could save more $650 million over 18 years.

If the municipality doubled that target to 50 per cent of all development, the savings would dramatically increase to around $3 billion.

"Stantec's report should be just an alarm bell for everyone," said Smith. "How much do we want to pay for this to continue?"

Smith said one way Halifax could try to shift growth patterns is to make it significantly more expensive to build outside the urban core.

A draft of the suggested changes to the regional plan is now being consider by Halifax's community design committee.

Public meetings on the proposal are supposed to take place this spring.