Niagara Official Plan
Niagara Region is anticipated to grow to a population of 694,000 people and 272,000 jobs by the year 2051. The 2022 Niagara Official Plan is a long-range land use planning document that sets out what we protect while managing where and how the region will accommodate this growth.
The plan will help create sustainable and thriving communities for residents and businesses through polices on topics like:
- Natural environment
- Climate change
The plan also identifies policies that will be integrated into local municipal official plans to help guide community planning decisions.
The 2022 Niagara Official Plan replaces the 2014 Office Consolidation of the Regional Official Plan.
Key components and supporting studies
Niagara is already feeling the impacts of climate change. Rising temperatures and extreme weather events have significant human and environmental costs, and increase financial risks to households, businesses and governments.
Land use planning is critically important in the fight against climate change. That is why policies across the entire official plan support the transition to low-carbon, climate-resilient communities.
A dedicated climate change section also highlights additional commitments and actions on climate change, such as preparing a municipal energy plan, implementing a regional greening initiative and developing a climate change adaptation plan, informed by regional climate projections.
Extensive background review and consultation have resulted in policies and mapping that provide stronger protections for Niagara's natural environment system.
The official plan identifies a natural heritage system and water resource system for protection, and sets out policies to maintain, restore and enhance the biodiversity and connectivity of natural features, which exceed provincial requirements.
- Mapping Discussion Paper (September 2019)
- Natural Environment Background Study (October 2019)
- Consultation Summary Report #1 (September 2019)
- Technical Report - Identification and Evaluation of Options (July 2020)
- Consultation Summary Report #2 (January 2021)
- Memorandum: Preliminary Policy Intent for the Natural Environment System in the Region’s Settlement Areas and Discussion on Implications (April 2021)
- Report: Status Update and Recommendations (May 2021)
- Natural Environment System - December 2021
- Natural Environment System: Components, Definitions, and Criteria (May 2022)
The Region recognizes the watershed as the ecologically meaningful scale for integrated and long-term planning.
The Niagara Watershed Plan was prepared to support the protection, enhancement and restoration of natural resources within Niagara's watersheds, with an emphasis on water resources. Watershed planning informs land use planning, including decisions relating to growth and infrastructure, and planning for climate change.
Niagara is home to an active and vibrant farming sector, which has a significant economic impact for the region.
The official plan identifies an agricultural system for protection and sets out policies to facilitate a strong, diverse and resilient agricultural economy.
It also adds more prime agricultural area and greenbelt protected countryside lands to the region's agricultural system.
According to provincial growth forecasts, Niagara will gain more than 214,000 new residents by 2051. The Province requires us to plan for this growth; we can decide how and where it's going to occur, and not occur, through the official plan.
The Region undertook a land needs assessment to determine how much land is needed to accommodate forecasted residential and employment growth to 2051. It determined that 855 hectares of additional developable land is needed to achieve the minimum growth forecasts. The land needs assessment incorporated preferred settlement area boundary expansions endorsed by Region Council in March 2022.
The land needs assessment informed the establishment of growth allocations in the official plan that distribute the forecasted growth between the local area municipalities. The official plan also sets out policies to coordinate the growth forecasts with land use, transportation, infrastructure and financial planning.
Learn about the settlement area boundary review preferred recommendations, which set out staff's preferred recommendations for boundary changes following extensive public and stakeholder consultation.
- Regional structure
The official plan establishes a new regional structure that provides clearer direction for urban development.
It directs forecasted growth to already built-up areas and identifies strategic growth areas to focus this growth, like the downtown St. Catharines urban growth area and protected major transit station areas. The regional structure allows us to direct growth where it makes sense and prevent urban sprawl.
The official plan also sets out minimum intensification and density targets, and policies that support compact built form, a mix of land uses and transit-supportive development.
Intensification is how many new dwelling units can be added to an already built-up area. Density is a measure of how many people and jobs can be accommodated in a given area.
Through good design, we can have communities that incorporate more dense forms of housing while still keeping what makes Niagara unique.
- Attainable housing
Housing prices have climbed dramatically in recent years, and more housing, particularly multi-unit housing, is needed to keep prices more affordable.
The official plan sets out policies to plan for an adequate supply of housing, and support the right mix of housing options to manage growth, while protecting what makes Niagara unique. The official plan also establishes affordable housing targets, as well as land use and financial tools to achieve the targets.
Affordability is supported by more compact, efficient forms of development, including through better intensification policies.
Secondary plans (community plans) and urban design are essential tools in strategically locating intensification in a way that best fits the community.
- Employment areas
Niagara's existing official plan lacks clearly defined employment areas and mapping, making it less competitive than other communities.
The new official plan identifies and protects employment areas for a range of employment uses, including heavy industrial, light industrial, and knowledge and innovation industries.
Clearly defining and mapping Niagara's employment areas will help direct investment to those areas, attracting and retaining jobs, and growing Niagara's economy.
- Aggregate resources
Mineral aggregate resources, such as sand, gravel, stone and share, are finite and must be protected from incompatible land uses that would limit their extraction in the future.
The new official land identifies and protects these resources and sets out policies to ensure that extraction, processing and transportation of resources minimizes environmental, social and economic impacts.
- Archaeological management plan
As part of the new official plan, Niagara Region retained Archaeological Services Inc. to prepare and consult on a Regional Archaeological Management Plan.
- Provincial and local plans
The official plan contributes to the priorities laid out for Niagara in Provincial policy and plans like the:
- Provincial Policy Statement (2020)
- A Place to Grow: Growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2019)
- Greenbelt Plan (2017)
- Niagara Escarpment Plan (2017)
It also helps guide Niagara's municipal secondary plans and zoning bylaws, as well as district plans, like the Brock District Plan and the Glendale District Plan.
- Regional structure