Regional Growth Strategies for Local Governments

A regional growth strategy is a strategic plan that directs long-term planning for regional district and municipal official community plans. It also provides the basis for decisions about implementation of provincial programs in a regional district.

Regional growth strategies are designed to promote human settlements that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable and that make efficient use of public facilities, land and other resources to support and enhance regional sustainability and resilience.

The development of a regional growth strategy is a collaborative and interactive process. A regional growth strategy is initiated, prepared and enacted by a regional district, with the involvement of its member municipalities, provincial agencies and others.

There are currently ten regional districts within the three high-growth areas of the province with completed regional growth strategies.

Purposes of a Regional Growth Strategy

A regional growth strategy would work toward, but not be limited by, the following:

  • Avoiding urban sprawl and ensuring that development takes place where adequate facilities exist or can be provided in a timely, economic and efficient manner
  • Developing settlement patterns that minimize the use of automobiles and encourage walking, cycling and the efficient use of public transit
  • Developing settlement patterns that minimize the risks associated with natural hazards
  • Moving goods and people efficiently while making effective use of transportation and utility corridors
  • Protecting environmentally sensitive areas
  • Maintaining the integrity of a secure and productive resource base, including agricultural and forest land reserves
  • Economic development that supports the unique character of communities
  • Reducing and preventing air, land and water pollution
  • Supporting adequate, affordable and appropriate housing
  • Developing adequate inventories of suitable land and resources for future settlement
  • Protecting the quality and quantity of groundwater and surface water
  • Preserving, creating and linking urban and rural open spaces including parks and recreation areas
  • Planning for energy supply and promoting efficient use, conservation and alternative forms of energy
  • Engaging in good stewardship of land, sites and structures with cultural heritage value

A regional district may design a custom strategy that fits local circumstances by adding other matters that cross local government boundaries and cannot be addressed by one jurisdiction.

Regional Growth Strategy Requirements

Minimum requirements for any regional growth strategy include:

  • A 20-year minimum time frame
  • Regional vision statements
  • Population and employment projections
  • Regional actions for key areas such as housing, transportation, regional district services, parks and natural areas, and economic development
  • Targets, policies and actions for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the regional district

A regional district board is required to consider its most recent housing needs report and the housing information on which it is based, when:

  • Developing a regional growth strategy,
  • Amending a regional growth strategy in relation to proposed housing actions, and
  • Considering every five years whether a regional growth strategy must be reviewed

The intent of this requirement is to help ensure that any updates to a regional growth strategy are informed by the latest available housing needs information.

The rest of the content of the regional growth strategy is largely left up to the local governments involved.

Preparing & Adopting a Regional Growth Strategy

Regional districts may voluntarily initiate a regional growth strategy by resolution of the regional district board. No B.C government approval is required for the initiation or enactment of a regional growth strategy.

The process for preparing a regional growth strategy is also largely left up to each region. Some regional districts have undertaken extensive research and assessed a number of options, while others moved through the process more quickly. In all cases, the preparation of a regional growth strategy involves engagement with all levels of government and the public.

The regional growth strategy is developed through an interactive process involving all affected local governments and enacted by a bylaw of the regional board. Before it is adopted, a regional growth strategy must be accepted by the affected local governments, or failing acceptance, become binding on the affected local governments.

The regional district must consider whether the plan should include the holding of a public hearing to provide an opportunity for persons, organizations and authorities to make their views known before the regional growth strategy is submitted for acceptance.

Building Consensus

The acceptance and the effective implementation of a regional growth strategy is dependent on buy-in to the process, ongoing involvement and commitment by all affected agencies. There are two mechanisms to achieve consensus and positive working relationships--consultation plans and intergovernmental advisory committees.

Consultation Plans

The legislation requires that the regional district board consult with individuals, organizations and authorities who they consider will be affected by the strategy, and adopt a consultation plan in this regard.

As part of developing a consultation plan, the board must consider the need for a separate public hearing before the adoption of a regional growth strategy. Public hearings allow opportunities for the public and other stakeholders to provide input well before a growth strategy comes to the board for approval. Consultation plans provide flexibility and maintain the integrity of the consultation process while facilitating the more efficient development of a regional growth strategy.

Intergovernmental Advisory Committees

Once a regional district has initiated a regional growth strategy, an intergovernmental advisory committee is established. This committee provides a forum for senior local government staff, senior B.C government staff and representatives of other authorities to advise the regional board on the development of the regional growth strategy and to help coordinate actions, policies and programs as they relate to the strategy.

Reaching Agreement

The regional growth strategy interactive planning model encourages dialogue to support the building of consensus among local governments on decision-making related to growth in the region. Given differing planning priorities and values, disputes can emerge.

The growth strategy legislation encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution processes to reach mutual agreement. The minister responsible for local government may appoint facilitators to assist local governments to reach agreement on the acceptance of regional growth strategies. If local governments are unable to reach agreement, the Minister will direct the parties to either a non-binding resolution process (mediation) or a binding settlement process.

Implementation Tools

Once a regional growth strategy has been adopted, all subsequent regional district bylaws and all works and services undertaken by the regional district must be consistent with the strategy.

Implementation Agreements

A regional district cannot implement a regional growth strategy on its own and requires the cooperation and assistance of municipalities, the B.C government and other organizations. Local governments have the authority to enter into implementation agreements with other local governments, levels of government and agencies to implement the actions and policies of the regional growth strategy.

Regional Context Statement

Municipalities must update their official community plans within two years of the adoption of the regional growth strategy to include a regional context statement. The regional context statement sets out the relationship between the regional growth strategy and the official community plan and how they will be made compatible over time.

The statement is subject to acceptance by the regional district, to ensure the municipality and the region agree that the two documents are compatible. Dispute resolution processes are available to resolve disagreements if they arise.

Monitoring an Adopted Regional Growth Strategy

Regional districts must:

  • Establish a monitoring program following the adoption of a regional growth strategy
  • Prepare an annual report for the public at least once every five years
  • Consider whether the strategy should be reviewed

Minor Amendments

Regional districts may make minor amendments to a regional growth strategy, but must ensure that amendments that substantially change the vision and direction of the strategy are accepted by all affected local governments. This ensures that:

  • The vision of a regional growth strategy is sustained
  • Day-to-day technicalities can be dealt with efficiently
  • Substantive policy decisions can be discussed and decided

Regional Issues Assessments

A regional issues assessment is a joint municipal/provincial government review of the issues affecting local governments in the area. In consultation with provincial government agencies, other organizations and the public, consensus is reached on issues, linkages and priorities. Possible follow-up actions such as a regional growth strategy, inter-jurisdictional agreements, joint community planning, local government restructure or infrastructure investment are identified and agreed upon.