Between now and 2051, the province of Ontario estimates Simcoe County’s population — excluding the cities of Barrie and Orillia — will balloon from about 357,000 currently to 555,000 total people.
With the influx of new residents, the province is also forecasting 198,000 jobs will exist here, up from the current 117,000.
But where exactly should that growth go and how should it be managed?
The County of Simcoe is hoping to answer that question through its upcoming first-ever municipal comprehensive review process, and is looking for interested parties – from developers to local councils, municipal staff, special-interest groups and residents – to weigh in.
“The project will really help to shape long-term growth. It’s an important element for people who live here,” said Dan Amadio, the county's manager of planning. “It also makes sure that any growth that takes place is doing so in such a way that protects resources.
“Really, we’re interested in hearing from anyone who has an interest in growth in Simcoe County,” he added.
Specific topics that will be covered through the review include growth management/land-needs assessment, natural heritage system mapping, agricultural system mapping, climate change, and watershed management.
“Those are the key things we’re looking for input on, and whatever that input happens to be, we’re open to hearing it,” said Amadio. “It is, by its nature, a very technical exercise. It’s important because we want the output to be as accurate as possible.”
A municipal comprehensive review is a planning exercise where county officials will meet with all upper- and lower-tier municipalities that are subject to Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. As Official Plans must conform to the provincial policy, the growth plan requires certain elements that have to come through a municipal comprehensive review.
While the province has provided the overall growth targets to the county, the county must distribute those targets in specific areas.
Preliminary information provided by the province to the County of Simcoe identifies five primary settlement areas that are poised to handle most of the local growth that will come by 2051: Alliston, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Alcona, Collingwood, and Penetanguishene/Midland.
“We need to analyze whether there are enough existing lands to accommodate those people and jobs. And if it’s discovered that there isn’t, decisions will then need to be made in regards to how to accommodate those people and jobs,” said Amadio.
“One outcome could be that some settlements need additional lands," he added.
While this is the first time the county has been directed to undertake such a review, Amadio says they expect they will be required to update the plan every five to 10 years.
“The province has said we have to do this,” he said. “This way all the policies can be addressed and we can be in full conformity with their plan.”
More information is expected to be released by the county in the coming weeks on each individual topic for anyone interested in providing feedback ahead of public information sessions which are planned throughout October, run by Hemson Consulting.
After the public engagement process, county staff will work with Hemson to compile all the information to present initial recommendations to county council in December. An Official Plan amendment would then come to county council which, upon endorsement, would be forwarded to the province for a 90-day review period. Another public engagement session will take place in the spring or early summer before final approval of council.
The province has said the entire municipal comprehensive review process must be completed by July 2022.
The first public information session — on Oct. 5 from 1:30-3 p.m. and 4-5:30 p.m. — will be covering land-needs assessment and growth management. More sessions on varying topics will be occurring Oct. 18 and 19.
For more information or to register to attend, click here.