Municipal sustainability plans
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs- Brundtland Report
A municipal sustainability plan (MSP), often referred to as an integrated community sustainability plan (ICSP), is a collaborative and inclusive community planning process that identifies a future vision for the community – what it looks like, how it functions and how to achieve it. The main role of a MSP is to guide the ongoing growth and development of the community from more than just a land use perspective.
In the late 2000s many municipalities across Alberta developed MSPs to meet requirements set out in the 2005 Gas Tax Agreement between the governments of Alberta and Canada. Recognizing the benefits of sustainability planning, AUMA provided tools and resources to help municipalities go beyond the agreement’s basic requirements and develop comprehensive long-term plans that include and integrate the five dimensions of sustainability (social, cultural, environmental, economic, and governance).
MSPs are the highest-level planning document in a municipality and set the direction for all other plans and polices. The vision and directions developed through the MSP process should be used to update the policy and vision in a municipal development plan and will help guide current decisions as municipalities plan new communities and redevelopment existing neighbourhoods through area structure plans and area redevelopment plans.
(Diagram adapted from Nova Scotia’s Implementation Guide for Sustainability Plans)
AUMA has developed MSP guides to help municipalities determine a path towards sustainability that is right for them. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Green Municipal Fund also provides a wide variety of related events, tools, case studies and related resources to support sustainable planning.
Although Part 17 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) provides express authority for municipalities to prepare land use plans, some municipalities prefer to use the general authority of municipalities to do things by bylaw or resolution to adopt what are often called concept or outline plans. These are usually at the scale of an area structure plan covering perhaps a quarter section (160 acres) or two. Such plans serve as a general guide to development. However, they do not have the authority of a statutory plan.
A variety of other land use planning documents and policies that are important statements of council intent but which do not cleanly fit into the formal structure provided in Part 17 are often adopted by resolution. Examples include design guidelines, general historical preservation strategies, or a general policy on development near water bodies. These have the force of council approval and can be incorporated into planning decisions at the appropriate stage of planning approval through appropriate administrative procedures.
Most municipalities will prepare a variety of other non-statutory plans relating to the various functions of the municipality. Master plans for utilities (water, sewer, storm water) are critical elements in determining the capacity of the municipality to accommodate additional growth. Staged expansion of infrastructure must be linked to capital budgets and estimates of growth to promote efficient system development.
Cities are required under the Highway Development and Protection Act to prepare a comprehensive transportation study report for the development of a transportation system designed to serve the needs of the entire city. The council shall establish a transportation system in accordance with the study report. As towns grow the need for a similar transportation master plan becomes apparent. Other functions for which master plans are prepared include parks and recreation facilities, trail systems, fire and police facilities services. Transportation and utility master plans in particular are fundamental components in determining estimates for development charges and offsite levies.
As of October 26, 2017, MGA section 618.2 provides that no bylaw is binding in respect of Part 17 unless that bylaw is passed in accordance with this part. As of January 1, 2018, municipalities will have one year to compile and keep updated a list of any policies that may be considered in making decisions under Part 17. The municipality must publish on the municipality’s website the list of the policies, a summary of the policies and how they relate to each other and how they relate to any statutory plans and bylaws passed in accordance with this part, and any documents incorporated by reference in any bylaws passed in accordance with this part. A development authority, a subdivision authority, subdivision and development appeal board, the Municipal Government Board or a council shall not have regard to any policy required to be listed under this section unless it is listed and published in accordance with this section.