So far, two of seven regional plans are complete and work on the other five will get underway in earnest in the coming two years
Many landowners are confused and mystified by Alberta’s land use planning process, but the province is committed to being transparent and working with the public, says a top government official.
To date, two of seven regional plans have been developed and the government will implement a monitoring, knowledge, and information system to help improve planning, decision-making and data sharing with the public as planning work continues, said Bev Yee, assistant deputy minister for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, and co-ordinator for the Alberta Land Stewardship Act.
But regional plans are complex creatures, Yee said at the recent Alberta Milk producers organization annual general meeting.
“Regional plans set the direction for the region, so all other levels of planning must align,” she said. “Municipal and watershed planning in a region needs to align with the regional plan. If they don’t align, changes will be made.”
In addition to considering, regional economic, social and environmental development, the plans must establish desired outcomes and objectives; consider how neighbouring regions might be impacted in terms of shared resources (such as water); take into account provincial strategies (for both resources and matters such as waste strategies); and consider their impact on other players, including the oil and energy, agriculture, recreation and tourism sectors. And the plans must also include methods for implementing them in measurable, tangible ways and consider specific locations, she said. All of the plans take in many players, including the oil and energy sectors, agriculture, recreation and tourism.
The initial planning process ran from 2005 to 2008, and public consultations at that time sent a clear message to government, said Yee.
“There was one resounding theme that came back from Albertans, in recognition of the fact that we’re a growing province and that we’re going to continue to grow,” she said. “Albertans wanted to have a plan to determine how we’re going to manage that growth.”
As a result, the province created the Land Use Framework policy, which encompasses land use planning for the entire province, and established seven regions for land use planning, aligning them with the seven major watersheds in the province. In 2010, the framework became the basis of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act.
“Regional planning recognizes that all regions are different,” said Yee. “The issues we see in the South Saskatchewan are very different from the issues we see in the Lower Athabasca region.”
The act is designed to foster conservation and stewardship.
“In Alberta, people are pretty serious about their attachment to land and the passion they have for the land,” she said.
The province also created a land use secretariat, and regional advisory councils with multi-stakeholder representation. Another key strategy was to create mechanisms for measuring cumulative effects on air, water and biodiversity.
“This one is really important because we have a fixed land base,” said Yee. “Our population continues to grow and our economic activities continue to grow, but our land base is finite and it will not grow. Promoting the efficient use of land in order to reduce the footprint of human activity on the landscape is critically important.”
The Lower Athabasca Regional Plan was completed in August 2012 and a draft plan South Saskatchewan region was completed in October and is now under review. Terms of reference for the North Saskatchewan will be established in spring 2014 and work on Lower and Upper Peace Regional Plans has begun. Planning for the Upper Athabasca and Red Deer regions will begin in 2015.