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Provincial land use planning

Provincial land use planning is centered on the Land Use Framework, the Alberta Land Stewardship Act and the regional plans authorized under this Act.

The Land Use Framework and the Alberta Land Stewardship Act

In 2008 the government adopted a policy statement titled the Land Use Framework (LUF). The LUF sets out an approach to manage public and private lands and natural resources to achieve Alberta’s long-term economic, environmental and social goals. The LUF identifies seven strategies to achieve these goals:

  • Develop seven regional land-use plans based on seven new land-use regions.
  • Create a Land-use Secretariat to oversee implementation of the LUF and establish a Regional Advisory Council for each region;
  • Cumulative effects management will be used at the regional level to manage the impacts of development on land, water and air;
  • Develop a strategy for conservation and stewardship on private and public lands;
  • Promote efficient use of land to reduce the footprint of human activities on Alberta’s landscape;
  • Establish an information, monitoring and knowledge system to contribute to continuous improvement of land-use planning and decision making; and,
  • Include Aboriginal peoples in land-use planning.

In 2009 the government adopted the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA). ALSA enables several of the strategies identified in the LUF to be carried out by establishing:

  • Seven regions that cover the entire province for the purpose of establishing a regional plan.
  • The position of the Stewardship Commissioner to oversee the development and implementation of regional plans.
  • The scope of regional plans and the process for their preparation and adoption.
  • Provisions for the establishment of tools for conservation and stewardship on public and private lands.
  • A process for compliance and enforcement of regional plans.

Land use Planning Regions (Source: Land Use Secretariat)

Regional plans

The LUF created seven regions that are congruent with the province's major watersheds and aligned with municipal boundaries.  The province is leading the development of regional plans with the input of Albertans, including aboriginal peoples, land owners and users, community leaders, and other stakeholders.

Regional plans are intended to:

  • Integrate existing provincial policies and strategies
  • Align policies with regional economic, environmental and social outcomes 
  • Provide clear policy direction for land users and land-use decision-makers
  • Follow a cumulative effects approach 

Two regional plans have been approved to date. The Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) came into effect on September 1, 2012 and the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) on September 1, 2014. Both plans follow the same format and consist of four parts:

  • Introduction
  • Strategic plan
  • Implementation plan
  • Regulatory plan details

The LARP focuses on industrial development and conservation and as such does not address municipal planning matters extensively. The SSRP, however, does contain statements aimed at municipal planning, specifically around efficient use of land and achieving sustainable community development.

Work is now underway on the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan which will include the Edmonton region. Development of the remaining regional plans will be staged over the next few years. It is anticipated that work on the Lower Peace Regional Plan will start in late 2016 through convening a Regional Advisory Council to provide regional knowledge and expertise to the Government of Alberta on how to address specific issues and challenges for the region.  The timing of the development of the remaining regional plans is uncertain but it is expected that they will be developed in the following order:

The Land Use Framework web page notes that “in some cases, detailed planning may be necessary within a region to address a subregional concern or specific issue. These plans go into more depth than a regional plan can, and focus on the specifics of the situation.” The ALSA allows subregional plans to be adopted or incorporated as part of a regional plan. Suggestions for inclusion as subregional plans included metropolitan plans for the Edmonton and Calgary region, integrated resource management plans and Comprehensive Regional Infrastructure Sustainability Plans (CRISPs). No subregional plans have been adopted in this manner and the precise implications of such an adoption remain to be determined. See the section on Subregional Planning for more information.

The effect of regional plans

The relationship between a municipality and regional plan is established in both the ALSA and the Municipal Government Act (MGA). The Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) states that municipal plans and bylaws must be consistent with an approved regional plan. The MGA requires that municipalities and municipal planning authorities must each carry out their function and responsibilities in accordance with any adopted regional plan. This provision comes into effect immediately upon the adoption of the regional plan. Each regional plan sets out a specific time frame within which municipalities within the area covered by the regional plan must complete a review of their plans and bylaws and amend them where necessary to ensure consistency with the regional plan. Upon completion of this review, the municipality must provide the Land Stewardship Commissioner with an affidavit stating that municipal plans and bylaws are in compliance.

Municipal Compliance with Regional Plans
Step Activities/Details
1) Municipalities are required to carry out their functions in accordance with a regional plan immediately upon the regional plan coming into force. (MGA section 630.2)
  • Review all components of the regional plan
  • Identify aspects that affect the municipality
  • Consider these during day-to-day planning and decision-making
  • Keep a record to demonstrate how the regional plan was considered in your regulatory and operational decisions
  • Show how the municipality considered the regional plans by referencing it in administrative reports and written decisions
2) Municipalities are required to review its plans and bylaws, and make amendments as necessary to comply with the regional plan. (ALSA section 20)
  • Identify all aspects of the plan that may affect the municipality  
  • Inventory all existing regulatory instruments
  • For every regulatory instrument, assess the potential impact of the regional plan
  • Decide whether there is a need to make any amendments to the instrument so it aligns with the regional plan
  • If there is a need, make the necessary changes to these instruments
3) After the review is complete, municipalities will submit the statutory declaration affirming that it is in compliance with the regional plan.
  • Municipalities within the Lower Athabasca Region have until September 1, 2017 to declare their compliance with the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan.
  • Municipalities within the South Saskatchewan Region have until September 1, 2019 to declare their compliance with the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.

More details on compliance including the Compliance Declaration form for Local Government Bodies can be found on the Land Use Framework Website. Municipal Affairs has also developed an information bulletin on the implication of the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan for municipalities in that region, including information on compliance. The Ministry is also working with the Land Use Secretariat to develop further guidance for municipalities in all regions on compliance with regional plans.

AUMA and the Land Use Framework

AUMA and our members were significantly engaged in the development of the Land Use Framework (LUF).  AUMA made several comprehensive policy submissions in relation to the development of the framework and Alberta Land Stewardship Act. We have consistently supported the need for regional plans, recognizing that there may be positive consequences for municipalities in terms of managing growth (e.g., limiting urban and rural sprawl).  However, we have also highlighted areas where the process for developing and implementing regional plans could be improved particularly in relation to municipal engagement.

For example, In 2012, AUMA obtained a legal review of the impact of the LUF and ALSA on municipalities. One of the key conclusions of the review was that regional plans could place some limits on municipal autonomy with respect to land use planning. Therefore, AUMA has stressed the importance of having greater representation by municipalities on Regional Advisory Councils (RACs). We have also worked to promote member engagement in implementing regional plans and developing and implementing related initiatives such as environmental frameworks.  

Overall, AUMA is guided by the following approach to engagement in the Land-use Framework:

  • Support the need for the timely development and implementation of regional plans that enhance Alberta’s sustainability.
  • Focus on the process for developing regional plans and province wide policy implications as opposed to the specific content of each plan
  • Promote consistent integration of sub-regional, intermunicipal and sustainability plans.
  • Advocate for a more transparent and accountable process particularly around the work of Regional Advisory Councils (RACs).
  • Advocate for stronger urban municipal representation on RACs and improved communication between RAC appointees and municipalities.
  • Promote opportunity for municipalities to directly participate in consultations.
  • If municipalities notify AUMA that they are incurring transitional costs in the review of their regulatory instruments, advocate that the province fund these new requirements.
  • Advocate that municipalities be fully engaged in the development of regulations and implementation of the regional plans.

To facilitate greater engagement between municipalities and the province, AUMA worked with the Land Use Secretariat (LUS) to host a series of webinars on land use planning. The series began in September 2015 with Pulling in the Same Direction: Aligning Land Use Decision Making. This webinar provided participants with an update on the status of regional plans, the requirement for municipal compliance with these plans, and an overview of efficient land use principles. 

Land use policies

The Municipal Government Act (MGA) provides that all municipal plans and bylaws, subdivision and development decisions, and appeal decisions must be consistent with land use policies adopted under the Act. Policies were adopted in 1996 to help municipalities to harmonize provincial and municipal policy initiatives at the local land use planning level.

The Land Use Policies are divided into eight sections:

  • Introduction
  • The planning process
  • Planning cooperation
  • Land use patterns
  • The natural environment
  • Resource conservation
  • Transportation and
  • Residential development

These are described in the land use policies as follows:

  • Section 1 sets out the purpose of the Land Use Policies and clarifies the implementation role of municipalities.
  • Sections 2 and 3 contain policies which are operational in nature and which relate to a municipality’s general approach to planning and to municipal interaction with residents, applicants, neighbouring municipalities, provincial and federal departments and other jurisdictions.
  • Sections 4-8 contain specific policies which address specific land use planning issues in which the province and municipalities share a common interest.

Each section consists of one or more goals, with one or more policies attached to each goal. The policies are broadly worded allowing municipalities flexibility as to how they will be consistent with these policies. Here is an example from the natural environment section:

To foster cooperation and coordination between neighbouring municipalities and between municipalities and provincial departments and other jurisdictions in addressing planning issues and implementing plans and strategies.


Municipalities are encouraged to identify, in consultation with Alberta Environmental Protection, significant ravines, valleys, stream corridors, lakeshores, wetlands and any other unique landscape area and to establish land use patterns in the vicinity of these areas having regard to their value to the municipality and to the Province.

At the time the policies were adopted, municipalities were required to review and amend their plans and bylaws to be consistent with the policies. After this review, municipal plans and bylaws were deemed to be consistent. With the adoption of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA), a provision was added to the MGA that the Land Use Policies did not apply to land covered by an ALSA regional plan. This provision was added to minimize the potential for conflict and confusion between land use policies. The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan for example now contains a number of policy statements directed at municipalities around land use efficiency that draw strongly on the principles contained in the Land Use Policies adopted under this section. The importance of some policies such as those on intermunicipal cooperation have been made somewhat redundant by recent legislative amendments mandating the formation of growth management boards, adoption of intermunicipal collaboration frameworks and intermunicipal development plansThe Land Use Policies are posted on the Alberta Municipal Affairs planning and development webpage.

Key provincial departments and agencies

Many provincial departments and agencies have a direct impact on municipal planning. A brief description of some key players is provided below.  More details on specific issues these departments deal with (e.g. contaminated sites) are provided in the section on How we plan.

Municipal Affairs

Alberta Municipal Affairs is the principal ministry responsible for municipal matters. The ministry web site identifies the following principal responsibilities of the department:

  • Assists municipalities in providing well-managed, collaborative, and accountable local government to Albertans.
  • Administers a safety system that strives to ensure appropriate safety standards for the construction and maintenance of buildings and equipment.
  • Manages the network of municipal and library system boards to provide province-wide access to high-quality public library services for Albertans.
  • The Alberta Emergency Management Agency is responsible for coordinating a comprehensive, cross-government, all-hazards approach to managing emergencies in the province.  
  • The Municipal Government Board is an independent, quasi-judicial board that conducts hearings and renders decisions on such matters as property assessment, and provides recommendations to Cabinet on matters defined under the Municipal Government Act (MGA), such as contested annexations.
  • The New Home Buyer Protection Board (NHBPB) hears appeals of decisions issued by the New Home Buyer Protection Office. Board members are appointed by the Minister of Municipal Affairs. 
  • The Safety Codes Council is a corporation established under the Safety Codes Act that reviews safety codes and standards and supports the Ministry's administration of the act.
  • The Special Areas Board manages about 2.6 million acres of public land in the province's three Special Areas and provides municipal services, such as construction and maintenance of local roads and parks, and emergency and protective services, to the dryland region in eastern Alberta.
  • The seven Improvement Districts, located primarily in the National Parks, provide limited administrative services, such as budget preparation, and in the case of Improvement District No. 9 fire protection and ambulance services.

The department provides major funding through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative and administers other grant programs such as grants in lieu of taxes on provincial properties. Advisory assistance is available from department staff. Specific services and publications can be viewed on the department website.

Land Use Secretariat

The Land Use Secretariat provides administrative support to the Stewardship Commissioner and is principally responsible for the preparation and administration of regional plans prepared under ALSA.

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP)

The vision of the AEP is to foster the sustainable development of natural resources through the environmental stewardship of the air, land, and water, and prioritizing biodiversity.

AEP is responsible for several pieces of legislation, policy, and programs that are of particular relevance to municipal land use planning:

  • The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act addresses such matters as *****contaminated sites ***** and landfills;
  • The Water Act addresses water licenses, ******water resource planning,****** and standards for water and wastewater systems; and,
  • The Public Lands Act addresses ownership and dispositions of Crown land including the ****bed and shore of water bodies.****

Alberta Energy Regulator (AER)

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is responsible for regulating the life cycle of oil, oil sands, natural gas, and coal projects in Alberta from application and construction to production, abandonment, and reclamation. The AER is authorized to make decisions on applications for energy development, monitoring for compliance assurance, decommissioning of developments, and all other aspects of energy resource activities.

Alberta Transportation

The vision statement for Alberta Transportation is to provide a safe, innovative and sustainable world-class transportation system that supports Alberta’s economy and increases Albertans’ quality of life. Key responsibilities include:

  • Preserving and developing the provincial highway system;
  • Managing transportation safety;
  • Supporting municipalities with transit and water/wastewater facilities; and
  • Developing a multi-modal transportation network

Provincial highways are a key access corridor for many smaller municipalities and provide vital links between municipalities. The Traffic Safety Act and the Highway Development and Protection Act are two pieces of legislation that address municipal authority and limitations with respect to roads and provincial highways.

Alberta Infrastructure

Alberta Infrastructure is responsible for infrastructure planning, and building and managing government-owned infrastructure. The ministry works with other ministries to ensure Albertans have the schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of a growing economy and population.