Thursday, October 30, 2008

Carr vs. Smitherman

A battle has been brewing for some time now between Halton Region and the province over the lag between new housing development and funding for infrastructure upgrades. This battle has recently come to a head in the form of an ultimatum issued by Regional Chair Gary Carr to Ontario Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman, in which Carr has threatened to impose a moratorium on new development until Halton's infrastructure needs are met.

At the heart of the issue is the province's 'Places to Grow' plan. The Region and the town of Milton have consistently talked about this plan as though they were being forced against their will to rubber stamp all those sprawling new subdivisions.

Over $2.5 billion will be needed for infrastructure to accommodate growth to 2021, while more than $8.6 billion will be required to serve the population increase to 2031, Carr informed the minister.

But Smitherman said the Province and its Places to Grow plan aren’t the cause of the problem.

“The servicing costs you indicate in your letter and the infrastructure deficit in Halton relate primarily to servicing areas which were planned for and approved by the Region prior to 2006 and precede the growth plan,” he said.

He also said, “The growth plan has not created this growth pressure — it provides a framework to manage and plan for it.”

Despite Carr's protestations, Smitherman is actually correct. Halton (specifically Milton) opened the floodgates for breakneck growth back in 1999, when the 'Big Pipe' bringing water from Lake Ontario was completed and the town started issuing building permits as fast as they could fill them out. And 'Places to Grow' primarily talks about ways in which the Region could accommodate an anticipated population increase through urban intensification and 'smart growth' principles - most of which (from what I can tell) the Region and particularly Milton have ignored.

Back when Mayor Krantz and Milton's Town Councillors were reassuring us all about these new developments, we were told that permit fees, development charges and new property taxes would cover everything. Today the fallacy of that assumption is clear to see - in the perpetual traffic congestion, in the long waits at the hospital, and in the already overcrowded schools.

And yet, the building continues apace.

Regardless of whether the fault lies with the Province (which has delayed again and again the uploading of social services funding from the municipalities), or the Region (for failing to account for the fact that new houses often contain actual people who drive and get sick and go to school) - or both - the one good thing that might come out of all this is if Gary Carr actually goes through with his threat to put the brakes on development.

Stay tuned: Chudleigh vs. The Beer Store is up next...