Councillor concerned province's housing task force will clash with HRM plans

·4 min read
Coun. Waye Mason, who represents District 7, says HRM officials were not consulted about the provincial plans. ( - image credit)
Coun. Waye Mason, who represents District 7, says HRM officials were not consulted about the provincial plans. ( - image credit)

A Halifax councillor is worried about the impact of two new provincial organizations on the municipality's authority over development, transportation planning and environmental protection.

As part of its housing strategy announced Wednesday, the province said it would establish a regional transportation group and a housing task force.

During question period in the legislature Friday, Premier Tim Houston said the task force — while not recommended by the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission — was necessary to ensure more affordable housing is created.

"We have a housing crisis in this province," said Houston in response to a question from Liberal Leader Iain Rankin.

"We need more housing supply. We're going to work closely with municipalities to make sure appropriate housing developments go forward … in a timely basis because we need supply in this province."

Houston said the task force would be composed of two HRM representatives, two provincial representatives and a chairperson.

HRM officials weren't consulted

Coun. Waye Mason told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Friday that municipal officials were not consulted ahead of time about the creation of the task force or the transportation group. He said he's surprised by their creation and worries that it means decision-making is being taken away from the municipality.

"It's totally fair for the province to want to see HRM and all the municipalities move faster," said Mason.

"But I don't think the fix is tossing aside all of our plans and all the consultation we've done, going back to the regional plan in 2006, and just telling people they can build whatever, wherever."

Another major concern, Mason said, is the potential duplication of work that may arise from the province setting up the two groups.

"We already have a master plan for transportation, which we did two years of public consultation on and aligns with our regional plan, which is called the Integrated Mobility Plan," Mason said.

"So it's not clear if they're setting aside the planning we've already done or if they're going to bring the provincial planning to meet up with the plans we've already put in place."

Construction progressing in HRM

Mason said that while everyone agrees the process of approving residential developments needs to go faster, it's not accurate to blame the municipality alone.

"The last couple of weeks, there's thousands and tens of thousands of units already approved through the central plan through development agreements," he said. "All this stuff that's allowed to be built right now that has not yet been built.

"So clearly there's other issues, and it could be getting building permits, it could be there aren't enough building inspectors, it could be that there's Department of Environment delays on the provincial side."

Mason said there were 5,700 housing units under construction in 2020 compared to 2,200 five years ago. He said building was taking place at a much faster rate and the question now is how to make it even faster.

"Those are the kind of conversations we want to have — not stripping the democratically elected council of its responsibility and handing it to unelected people who we don't even know if they'll make their discussions public," Mason said.

'Nonsense tried in the election campaign'

During question period Friday, Rankin asked Houston for assurances that HRM's Regional Plan and Green Network Plan, which provides protection for places like the Purcell's Cove backlands and the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, would be "respected and not overridden."

Pat Callaghan/CBC
Pat Callaghan/CBC

Houston bristled at the question.

"We've been very, very clear that appropriate housing development should move forward and we would do that with, of course — of course — with respect to the environmental process," he said.

"This is the type of nonsense that was tried in the election campaign. Nova Scotians saw through it. They know what this government stands for, and it's progress and moving forward in the appropriate manner."

Meanwhile, legislation giving municipalities the power to ask for affordable housing in new developments was introduced at Province House. Inclusionary zoning was part of the government's housing plan announced Wednesday.

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