Alta. drafts new land-use policy framework

New ways to stem the loss of Alberta’s farmland against “fragmentation” by other uses are among goals of a draft land-use framework the province unveiled Wednesday.

The framework is meant to give the province “a strategic blueprint for all levels of government and Albertans as we make decisions today about the province we want in the future,” said Ted Morton, the province’s minister for sustainable resource development, in a release.

The province has put the draft framework and a public survey online for public comment by a deadline of June 20.

The framework proposes six new land-use regions (north, northeast, north-central, northwest, south-central, south), each of which would have to develop a regional land-use plan. A new committee of the provincial cabinet would oversee development of those plans, working with new regional advisory councils that include government, industry, non-governmental and aboriginal representation.

Four “immediate” planning priorities under this framework would be to complete the southern and northeastern regional plans — and to have metropolitan plans completed and put in place for the Capital (Edmonton) and Calgary regions, the province said.

Southern Alberta, for example, contains over half of Alberta’s total population but has the least water, the province observed.

Wheat, barley and canola production, cattle feedlots, coal-bed methane, roads and rail lines are also concentrated in the south, which depends on the ecological integrity of the eastern slopes for its water supply, the province said.

Work has already started on those priorities, the province added, and government staff are already identifying the legislation, regulations and policies needed to act on the rest of the framework.

The purpose of the framework, developed through 18 months of consultations provincewide, “is to manage growth — not stop it,” Morton said.

“The draft framework proposes better tools, processes and resources to make the right decisions… At the same time, it respects personal property rights and the decision-making authority of local governments.”

Fragmented farmland

The province has also laid out a number of policies it will put in place to address challenges highlighted in its consultations. Key among those for farmers is the province’s plan to “determine more effective approaches to reduce the fragmentation and conversion of agricultural land.”

In a 2002 report on the topic, the province found it had lost relatively little farmland on a net basis, but also noted the farmland converted to other uses, such as residential lots, is often of high capability for annual and horticultural crops. Meanwhile, land being brought into ag production is lower-quality and better suited to forage and pasture.

By “fragmentation,” the province refers to farmland that’s subdivided for country residential development, creating fragmented areas where it can become difficult or dangerous to move ag equipment or cattle along local roads.

Such developments also create more traffic moving at higher speeds and can lead to a litany of nuisance complaints from new neighbours objecting to normal farming practices that create smells, noise or dust, the province observed.

But the province also noted in its 2002 report that farmers’ option to subdivide or sell fragments of their land — especially as land prices climb and farmers near retirement age — is considered a “right” that many farmers would oppose if it were removed.

Other challenges

Among its other policy objectives coming out of the new draft framework, the province plans to:

  • develop a transportation and utility corridors strategy;
  • prepare a plan for parks to conserve and protect diversity in Alberta’s land base;
  • develop a comprehensive strategy to better manage growing recreational use pressures on public lands;
  • develop policy to minimize exposure of developments and settlements to flood risk; and
  • review the current process for identifying major surface concerns prior to public offering of Crown mineral rights.

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