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Surrey mayor challenges regional climate plans as 'too prescriptive'

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke led a challenge against the recommendations to protect trees and measure climate impacts, saying they were 'too prescriptive' for 'growth communities.'
Metro Vancouver's regional planning committee sent the recommendations back to staff to weaken the language.

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke challenged two pillars of a long-term Metro Vancouver plan to address climate change Friday.

At a regional planning meeting, Locke and several other Metro committee members opposed two recommendations brought forward by staff to enhance its Metro 2050 climate plan. 

Locke recommended a motion to erase plans to restore trees and ecosystems on lands designated for farming, conservation and recreation, and in areas outside the urban containment boundary (UCB) — a perimeter meant to help cities focus on urban planning and prevent sprawl into neighbouring farms, conservation or rural land. 

Locke also attempted to remove a requirement that cities carry out environmental and climate change analyses. The staff recommendation aimed to ensure future land-use applications don’t conflict with commitments already made at the regional city level around carbon storage in natural areas; tree canopy cover; impervious surfaces; agricultural land; and green infrastructure.

“It’s too prescriptive — especially for those of us in growth communities,” said Locke. 

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West said he disapproved with the strong language in the recommendations, adding it risked “regulatory overreach” by Metro Vancouver. 

“It seems that a meeting doesn't pass where we're not layering on additional requirements and regulations. And I'm concerned about the cumulative impact of that,” said West. 

Other Metro committee members were more supportive of the staff plans. Port Moody Mayor Meghan Lahti said the recommendations were about encouraging the protection and restoration of trees on lands outside the UCB, “which are not at this point in any way… being monitored or viewed.” 

“I think it's important to include lands outside of the urban containment boundary when we're looking at tree canopy,” she said. 

New Westminster Mayor Patrick Johnstone said he didn’t think regional planning amounted to “regulatory overreach” and that all members of the regional body had a role in achieving common goals. 

“There's specific roles that we play in a dense city like New Westminster or dense cities like Port Moody that we're not asking the rural areas of the province or of the region to carry,” he said.  

Johnston also opposed Locke’s motion to strike climate-related analyses and data collection from the staff recommendations. 

“This is about ensuring that the directors at the board who are reviewing these applications have the information in front of them. They need to know about the cost-benefit analysis of any application that's changing,” he said. 

“I don't think we can manage what we don't measure.”

Locke’s challenge to the plan to restore trees on non-urban lands was defeated in a split vote, while a majority of committee members voted to eject the recommendation aimed to ensure future land-use applications don’t conflict with climate commitments.

In two separation motions, however, both recommendations were sent back to Metro staff to weaken the language. 

The debate comes as municipalities grapple with provincial mandates looking to force cities to densify and alleviate the housing crisis. 

It also comes on the heels of a Metro Vancouver staff report that found the region's tree canopy had declined one per cent between 2014 and 2020, while impervious surfaces, like roads and buildings, surged five per cent. The latest numbers mean hard artificial ground now covers 54 per cent of the UCB, while only 31 per cent is covered by trees. 

Pressures from growth, along with new provincial housing legislation, “will likely lead to further tree canopy cover losses and impervious surface increases,” write the authors of the report.