Toronto 2025: Can the Greenbelt survive growth pressure?

Created 10 years ago as a buffer against rampant sprawl, the Ontario Greenbelt is under new pressure as the region continues to grow.

The province is studying the 10-year-old Greenbelt, which put a check on urban sprawl

Greenbelt faces new pressure

9 years ago
Duration 3:21
Created as a check on urban sprawl, the Greenbelt is under new growth pressure

Created 10 years ago as a check against sprawl in the fast-growing areas north of Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario's Greenbelt is under new pressure.

At two million acres, the Greenbelt forms a ring of land north of the city where development is restricted. The intention was to protect areas such as the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine from rampant development.

Susan Swail of Environmental Defence told CBC's Mike Wise that no sections of the Greenbelt should be lost to development.

"There's generations of land already allocated for development, there's no reason to go out into the Greenbelt. If we grow smarter, grow up and not out, there's no reason we can't have a protected Greenbelt."

Bradley Harman is a real estate board president in Brampton, an area under extreme growth pressure.

"Brampton obviously has been a very fast-growing market," he said. "The Greenbelt has contributed again to kind of holding the market into one specific location. It provides a boundary for which urban sprawl is limited.

The Ontario government is currently reviewing its plan for the Greenbelt. Created in 2005, it was intended as a check on sprawl but is now under new pressure as the region north of Toronto and Hamilton continues to grow. (Mike Wise/CBC)

"I'd say we're approaching the brink of where we can develop. We're right along the borders of Brampton, encroaching onto Caledon at the moment. I don't imagine there's much more space to grow out at this point."

Harman says the Greenbelt is too valuable a resource to destroy. He wants towns and cities to adopt stronger smart-growth strategies to better use the land we can build on.

"There's going to be some serious conversations as to what and where we can build," he said. "Developers will constantly be looking for the easier ways to build and the easiest way to build is on fresh farmland."

Concerns over new highway plans

The need for new homes isn't the only factor putting pressure on the Greenbelt.

The province is studying routes for the GTA West highway, which would cut across the north end of Brampton and Vaughan to connect Highway 401 with Highway 400.

Swail says the highway plan runs contrary to the ideals of the Greenbelt and would take about 2,000 acres of prime farmland out of production.

"It's a really bad idea and I think it should be stopped, and I think it will be stopped," she said.

The Ontario government is currently holding public consultations about the Greenbelt. 

With files from CBC's Mike Wise