Province may appoint new planning authority to oversee development in Winnipeg and area
'We have a fragmented planning process,' Premier Brian Pallister tells Winnipeg Metropolitan Region audience
Manitoba may appoint a new planning authority to oversee development in Winnipeg and its neighbouring municipalities — but still leave some planning powers in the hands of the city.
The Winnipeg Metropolitan Region — an organization made up of the city and 17 surrounding municipalities — unveiled a report Thursday that recommended the province appoint a metro-area regional planning authority "to ensure the tenets of a regional growth management and servicing plan are enforced."
The report, authored by Edmonton consultant Robert Murray, follows the spring release of a Progressive Conservative government report that described the City of Winnipeg's planning, property and development department as dysfunctional.
Premier Brian Pallister immediately endorsed the idea of a regional planning authority, telling an audience of political leaders, planners and developers at the release of the report that existing planning practices are driving business away from Manitoba.
"We have a fragmented planning process," Pallister said after the report was released at the Metropolitan Theatre over the lunch hour Thursday.
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Winnipeg's mayor, several city councillors and representatives from neighbouring municipalities were in attendance.
Mayor Brian Bowman, who dismissed the internal provincial report last spring as anonymous complaints from developers, said he's more pleased with the process behind this new report.
Bowman expressed optimism a new regional planning authority will benefit the city and its neighbours.
"If it makes sense for the citizens and the businesses we collectively serve, then we should be open to new processes and new ideas," Bowman said.
Pallister said a new planning authority is not a step toward allowing Winnipeg to swallow up its neighbours, the way the city did in 1972, when 11 other municipalities merged with the city.
"These actions are not about amalgamation," the premier said.
Addressing the same audience, consultant Murray said the city and its neighbours must speed up the way it approves developments, or see businesses run away to other provinces or regions.
"Regional planning processes must be depoliticized," he said. "There is no better time than now. The economy will not wait for you.
"Silos and fiefdoms will not serve you in the long run."
Murray said the new planning authority would not replace all existing city planning functions. It would only handle plans that would affect transportation, development or servicing for the whole area.
In his report, he suggested municipalities may be wary of the new planning authority.
"Many stakeholders voice a fear of losing autonomy due to provincial interference in local planning processes or potential municipal amalgamation," he wrote.
Bowman, however, shrugged off the idea the city will lose control over decision-making, noting he's been assured Manitoba won't make the same mistakes other provinces have made with regional planning authorities.
The Winnipeg Metropolitan Region, which was established in 1998, has up until now achieved relatively little success in co-ordinating regional planning and growth. That changed when Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government granted the body more power to pursue economic-development goals.
Pallister did not put a time frame on a new planning authority, but suggested the province won't wait indefinitely for municipalities to sign off on the idea.
"Other jurisdictions are getting ahead of us and that can't be allowed to continue," the premier said.