Thursday, March 27, 2014

89% of BC agricultural land will have much less protection Proposed Changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act

The government is proposing in Bill 24 - Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act a significant change to how decisions are made for land that is part of the Agricultural Reserve.   In my opinion the main changes will defacto leave 89% of the designated agricultural land in BC with little or no real protection.

The biggest change is making two zones in BC, one zone that applies to  the Okanagan, Greater Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley and the second zone that applies to the rest of the province.    Zone 1 would continue with the existing rules for ALR but Zone 2 would have a much more relaxed standard.

At the moment about 11% of the provincial ALR lands would end up in Zone 1 and 89% would end up in Zone 2.

% of total ALR in BC by regions:
North Region      50% Zone 2
Interior Region   31% Zone 2
Kootenay Region    8% Zone 2
Okanagan Region    5% Zone 1
South Coast Region 4% Zone 1
Island Region      2% Zone 1

Up until now the reasons why land could be removed from the ALR was relatively restricted by the Agricultural Land Commission Act.   Here is Section 6 of the act, the purpose:

The amendment to the act adds the following for how Zone 2 panels will make decisions:

Exercising a power in Zone 2

4.3  When exercising a power under this Act in relation to land located in Zone 2, the commission must consider all of the following:
(a) the purposes of the commission set out in section 6;
(b) economic, cultural and social values;
(c) regional and community planning objectives;
(d) other prescribed considerations.

4.3 (b) is so vague that it could allow for a lot things.   Does it mean building a big box store is an economic value that has to be considered?

4.3 (c) will give local governments the ability to interfere with and restrict agricultural activities in most of BC.
4.3 (d) is a catch all that is open to anything everything.  It gives the power to cabinet to create new regulations relating to what the panels need to consider when making decisions on land.   Changes to the regulations can be done by Order in Council whenever cabinet would like.    This section basically is saying the cabinet can make up new rules whenever it feels like it.

So who might benefit from this change?
  • Certainly using agricultural land in the north east for the oil and gas industry could be easier - not the wells themselves, but the sites needed to service the industry.   
  • Bi box retailers looking for greenfield sites on the edges of towns in Zone 2 will push for the locations to be used.
  • Rodeo grounds would seem to be OK now based on 4.3 (b), why else the cultural values.
  • Back in December the provincial government said they would take the 3,000 or so hectares of ALR land Site C would flood out of purview of the ALC, these changes seem to be the mechanism by which they are going to do this.   Site C will be by far the biggest loss of ALR land in BC in a very long time.
  • Since changes to ALR rules in Zone 2 can be done by Order in Council, there will be a boom in landowners using lobbyists to get the land out of the ALR
What will some of the impacts be?
  • There will be a lot more non agricultural uses of land in Zone 2.   Sprawl and development are inevitable.
  • The relaxation of the rules will drive land speculation and through that the cost of the ALR lands in Zone 2 will rise quickly over the next few years.   
  • The rising price will make it hard for new entrants to agriculture.  It will also make it harder for farms to pass onto the next generation.
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