I have been responding to concerns about the importance of our rivers:
Our residents want us to not only protect but enhance our river valleys. I believe Council’s approval in 2010 of Official Plan Amendment 42 (OPA 42), which adopted the policy recommendations of the Natural Heritage Strategy, will do just that.
The River System Management Plan was ahead of its time, like many other environmental policies during the 1990s, thanks to the leadership of environmental leaders in our community. These changes in policy direction were driven by community concern. The policy recommendations of the River Systems Management Plan were incorporated into the official plan in 1995.
This strong foundation has allowed the City of Guelph to transition from a feature-based approach to natural heritage protection to an environment first system-based approach.
The Natural Heritage Strategy was initiated in 2003. It was pushed to the back burner from 2004 to 2006 and re-initiated in 2007. Rather than delay the adoption of the natural heritage policies any further, the policies were brought forward in 2010 for incorporation into our official plan in advance of the policy work that is currently being considered by Council. You won’t find these policies in OPA 48 because they are already approved by Council. We did this so that we would not have development applications moving forward under a weaker policy framework (i.e. less protection of natural heritage).
The importance of the Speed and Eramosa has not been diminished by the updates to the official plan. Rather, the protection of the entire natural heritage system has been elevated by adopting an “environment first” systems approach. Wherever you read “natural heritage” it includes our rivers.
You can actually see the evolution of thinking, with respect to the protection of natural heritage in the urban environment, in the map that shows all our protected natural heritage lands. In the oldest part of our community, natural heritage lands are represented mainly by our river valley and parks. South of Stone Road, you can see the outcome of the Hanlon Creek Watershed Study. There are significantly more wetlands protected and some emerging linkages. However, it is the undeveloped lands south of Clair Road that you see the full expression of the policies of the Natural Heritage Strategy.
With the change to an environment-first systems approach to natural heritage protection we are better positioned to protect our natural heritage including our rivers.
With respect to the linkages between open space (parkland) and natural heritage lands, the Natural Heritage Strategy made a distinction between natural heritage lands (including naturalized open space and parkland) and “active” park land. Policies recognize that active parkland can be planned to be complementary to natural heritage lands while meeting the recreational needs of the community.
And finally, the Downtown Secondary Plan was recently approved by Council and includes policies related to the river and trail system. The Downtown Secondary Plan also updates our official plan and has recommended a new park along the river, north of The Boathouse, comprising the south-east corner of Gordon and Wellington. This is a strong statement that the official plan does more than just protect the status quo but will also enhance our river corridor and trail system.
I look forward to hearing from the delegations on Tuesday and thank them for their passionate support of our rivers.
If you are interested in reading the natural heritage policies that Council has already approved, they can be found in section 4 – Protecting What is Valuable