Official community plans for local governments
Official community plans describe the long-term vision of communities. They are a statement of objectives and policies that guide decisions on municipal and regional district planning and land use management. These decisions impact communities' sustainability and resilience.
Municipalities, regional districts and the Islands Trust have the authority to develop official community plans under the Local Government Act.
The City of Vancouver has the authority to develop official development plans under the Vancouver Charter.
Many local governments include planning policies in their official community plans that support positive economic, social and cultural, and environmental outcomes.
To support community sustainability and resilience, local governments often integrate their official community plans and a range of other community plans and strategies, addressing such matters as transportation, housing, sustainability or the impacts of climate change.
Effect of an Official Community Plan
Local governments are not required to adopt an official community plan. However, after the adoption of an official community plan, all bylaws enacted or works undertaken must be consistent with the plan. The official community plan does not commit the local government to proceed with any works or projects that are mentioned in the plan.
Content of an Official Community Plan
Official community plans must include certain plan statements and map designations and may also contain optional policy statements and development permit area designations. Other federal and B.C. government guidelines and requirements may influence the content of an official community plan.
Required Plan Statements & Map Designations
If a local government chooses to prepare and adopt an official community plan, it must have statements and map designations for:
- Residential development required to meet anticipated housing needs over a period of at least five years
- Present and proposed commercial, industrial, institutional, agricultural, recreational and public utility land uses
- Present and proposed public facilities, including schools, parks and waste treatment and disposal sites
- Sand and gravel deposits that are suitable for future sand and gravel extraction
- Phasing of any major road, sewer and water systems
- Restrictions on the use of land that is subject to hazardous conditions or that is environmentally sensitive to development
An official community plan must also include:
- Housing Planning Policies: Housing policies for affordable housing, rental housing and special needs housing
- Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets: Targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and policies and actions of the local government proposed to achieve those targets
Required Consideration of Housing Needs
A local government is required to consider its most recent housing needs report and the housing information on which it is based, when:
- Developing an official community plan, and
- Amending an official community plan in relation to housing statements, map designations or policies
The intent of this requirement is to help ensure that any updates to an official community plan are informed by the latest available housing needs information.
Optional Policy Statements
A local government may choose to include additional policy statements in an official community plan:
- Policies relating to social needs, social well-being and social development
- A regional context statement (if the plan area is in a regional growth strategy area)
- Policies respecting the maintenance and enhancement of farming on land in a farming area or in an area designated for agricultural use in the plan
- Policies relating to the preservation, protection, restoration and enhancement of the natural environment, its ecosystems and biological diversity
- In cases where a matter is not within the jurisdiction of the local government, the plan may state only the broad objectives of the local government
Examples of optional policy statements include the social policies in the guide Age-Friendly and Disability-Friendly Official Community Plans (PDF)
Development Permit Areas
Local governments have the authority to designate development permit areas in an official community plan. These identify locations that need special treatment for certain purposes including the protection of development from hazards, establishing objectives for form and character in specified circumstances, or revitalization of a commercial use area. This authority can also be used to achieve climate action goals for energy conservation, water conservation and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Unless a development permit is obtained, development in such areas is restricted.
If an official community plan designates development permit areas, then the implementing guidelines may be located in the official community plan or in the zoning bylaw.
Other B.C. government and federal agencies may also have their own regulatory requirements and guidance materials related to their mandates that can impact the content of official community plans or other bylaws. Some examples include:
- Regulations: For example, protection of fish habitat under the Riparian Areas Regulation
- Policies: For example, increasing housing in existing neighbourhoods (infill)
- Guidelines: For example, setting out program priorities and promoting environmental functions and resilience
- Information and Best Practices: For example, information about starting or expanding a licensed child care facility
- Toolkits: For example, adaptation strategies, a recommended framework for decision-making and adaptation tools to address sea level rise
Developing an Official Community Plan
Official community plans are adopted by bylaw and a local government may have one or more official community plans. Local governments are responsible for the process of developing an official community plan that usually involves a number of different steps including:
- Technical analysis
- Preparation of a draft bylaw
- Decisions about which persons, organizations and authorities to consult
- One or more opportunities for consultation and engagement
- Possible revisions to the bylaw
- A series of formal bylaw readings
- A public hearing
- A fourth reading of the bylaw (adoption)
As part of the research and analysis for the official community plan, infrastructure lifecycle costing can be used to help evaluate the costs of different development scenarios.
There are certain key timing and sequencing requirements in developing an official community plan. After first reading of the bylaw, the local government must:
- Consider the official community plan in conjunction with its financial plan and any relevant waste management plan
- Refer the official community plan to the Agricultural Land Commission if there is land in the Agricultural Land Reserve
- Hold a public hearing
After the public hearing, the local government may give the bylaw third and fourth (adoption) reading.
Contact your local government for information on official community plan processes, contacts or specific projects.
Consultation & Engagement
As part of the development of an official community plan the local government must provide one or more opportunities for consultation with persons, organizations or authorities that will be affected. This is an important part of developing an official community plan.
Many local governments provide additional opportunities for engagement such as open houses or information sessions.
Learn more about consultation and engagement: