British Columbia

Limit housing development, return all protected land to farm-use only, ALR report recommends

The report, by an independent advisory committee, makes 13 recommendations for improving legislation to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Advisory committee makes 13 recommendations to protect agricultural land

The report recommends an analysis of how much land designated as ALR in B.C. is actually suitable for farming. (Shutterstock)

It's time to crack down on non-farmers buying agricultural land to build large housing developments, according to a report from the independent ALR advisory committee. 

The report, submitted to B.C. Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham, makes 13 recommendations for improving legislation to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve, including limiting housing developments on the provincially protected land. 

The committee visited nine communities across the province to speak to stakeholders, while more than 2,300 people filled out the committee's online survey about the ALR.

"Within the ALR itself, agriculture has to be the priority of the province and the province must step up to the plate," committee chair Vicki Huntington told Audrey McKinnon, guest host of CBC's Radio West.

'Thinking agriculture'

Huntington said the committee has recommended a full analysis of the ALR be done to re-evaluate how much of the land is suitable for farming.

"While we say the ALR arable land in the province is five per cent, we have a feeling it's closer to two per cent once you work in all the other uses and exclusions and roadways and lakes," she said.

"If we're going to sustain agriculture, the province has to start thinking agriculture in everything that it does," she added.

B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen welcomed the recommendation, saying that major housing developments and speculation are driving up prices at a time when agriculture is facing a demographic crisis and young farmers are struggling to afford to buy land.

"The ALR is crucial to supporting B.C. agriculture, farmers and our local food security," Olsen said in a press release. 

Call to return to 1-zone system

In 2014, B.C.'s ALR was divided into two zones: one to be kept as farm-use only, and another to be monitored more loosely, allowing for non-farming activity. 

The latest report calls for the return of a one-zone system in order to increase the amount of land designated for agriculture. 

"The value of the land in the long run is so high for agricultural production that we felt it must be protected," Huntington said. 

The committee is also recommending a task force be created to "restore balance between the energy sector and the agricultural sector."

"We found the technological advances in the oil and gas industry, particularly with horizontal fracking, has created an imbalance in the regulations that were originally set up to protect the farmer and the farmland," Huntington said.

With files from Radio West and the Canadian Press

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