Land Use Planning

Land Use Planning - Overview

Development in the area of the Niagara Escarpment is guided by the Niagara Escarpment Plan, Canada’s first large-scale environmental land use plan.

The seven land use designations outlined in the Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP) are as follows:

Niagara Escarpment Plan Designation
(percentage of total NEP Area)

Escarpment Natural Area (26.1%)

  • Biosphere Reserve Designation: Core area

Escarpment Protection Area (36.4%)

  • Biosphere Reserve Designation: Buffer area   

Escarpment Rural Area (29.5%)

  • Biosphere Reserve Designation: Buffer area

Urban Area & Minor Urban Centre (2.1%)

  • Biosphere Reserve Designation: Transition area

Escarpment Recreation Area (4.3%)

  • Biosphere Reserve Designation: Transition area

Mineral Resource Extraction Area (1.6%)

  • Biosphere Reserve Designation: Transition area  

Following the land use designation system, the NEP Area is especially well suited for UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve designation. The biosphere reserve is anchored by a backbone of heavily protected lands at and near the Escarpment cliff face.  

Moving away from this most protected area, there is a series of land use designations with decreasing levels of protection, corresponding to the core, buffer and transition areas of a biosphere reserve.  

Core and buffer designations constitute 92 percent of the NEP Area. Transition areas where more intense development is permitted constitute about eight percent of the Plan Area.

For each of its land use designations, the Niagara Escarpment Plan outlines the objectives, permitted uses and policies. The Escarpment Natural Area has the most restrictive policies, the Urban Areas the least restrictive.  

For example, no new building lots are permitted in either the Escarpment Natural Area or the Escarpment Protection Area, and only one new lot per original 40-hectare parcel is permitted in the Escarpment Rural Area.  

The overall objectives embodied in the Plan are stated in the legislation:  

(a) to protect unique ecologic and historic areas;  

(b) to maintain and enhance the quality and character of natural streams and water supplies;  

(c) to provide adequate opportunities for outdoor recreation;  

(d) to maintain and enhance the open landscape character of the Niagara Escarpment in so far as possible, by such means as compatible farming or forestry and by preserving the natural scenery;  

(e) to ensure that all new development is compatible with the purpose of this Act as expressed in section 2;  

(f) to provide for adequate public access to the Niagara Escarpment; and  

(g) to support municipalities within the Niagara Escarpment Planning Area in their exercise of the planning functions conferred upon them by the Planning Act. (Section 8, Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act, Revised Statutes of Ontario)  

A separate section of the Plan includes development criteria to be applied throughout the Plan Area. These criteria cover matters such as protection of water quality, management of forest resources, restrictions on developing on steep slopes and criteria for approving small-scale commercial uses accessory to agriculture (such as wineries in conjunction with vineyards). They also permit municipalities the flexibility to apply their own planning standards, provided that those standards do not conflict with the Niagara Escarpment Plan.  

The third component of the Plan is the Niagara Escarpment Parks and Open Space System. It sets out policies for the parks system as a framework for the establishment and co-ordination of a network of publicly owned lands within the Plan Area. There are 131 existing and proposed public parks and open space areas, linked by the Bruce Trail. This trail is a continuous footpath running the entire length of the Plan Area, largely in the core Escarpment Natural Area. It is administered and maintained by the Bruce Trail Conservancy, a non-government organization composed largely of volunteers.

The land use legislation generally in force in Ontario -- the Planning Act -- authorizes each municipality to plan within its own boundaries. By contrast, the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act deliberately directs the Niagara Escarpment Commission to plan at the provincial level for Niagara Escarpment ecosystems which transcend municipal boundaries.  

Given the purpose of the Act, the onus is on those who wish to develop to prove that their proposals are compatible with the Escarpment environment. When commenting on, or making decisions on proposed development, the Commission is guided by the purpose and objectives of the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act and the policies and criteria of the Niagara Escarpment Plan.

Within a geographical "development control" area set out provincial regulation, all proposals defined as "development" require a development permit from the Niagara Escarpment Commission. Examples of such developments include new single dwellings, road construction, sand and gravel pits, installation of irrigation or recreational ponds, altering the grade of the land, and changes in the use of existing structures.  

Map of Niagara Escarpment Plan Area

New Lands Added to Niagara Escarpment Planning Area

Additions to the Niagara Escarpment Planning Area - Regulation 235/10  

  • On June 15, 2010 the Minster of Natural Resources announced that 750 hectares of land has been added to the Niagara Escarpment Planning Area (NEPA) by the Lieutenant Governor in Council pursuant to the provisions of the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act (NEPDA). 
  • Please note these maps are not a plan of survey and are intended to reflect the areas as described in Ontario Regulation 235/10.

The new lands include and are known as:

  1. The Cootes Paradise Link – Located in the City of Hamilton includes a strip of land found between property held by the Royal Botanical Gardens.
  2. The Pleasant View Survey– Located in the City of Hamilton the lands found generally south of Patterson Road extending to Highway 403 and including lands between Highway 6 on the east and York Road on the West.
  3. The 407 Gap Lands - Located in the City of Burlington the lands generally located between Highway 407 on the east and bounded to the north by No. 1 Sideroad and to the south by Dundas Street.
  4. The Dufferin Quarry Addition – Located in the Town of Milton the lands located immediately north of the Dufferin Quarry License Extension approved by the cabinet in 2005.
  5. The Weinberg Property – Located in the Municipality of Grey Highlands 80 hectares more or less along the Beaver Valley in Lot 19, Concession 6.
  • The addition to the NEPA will permit the Niagara Escarpment Commission to process Niagara Escarpment Plan Amendments providing Escarpment Land Use Designations and Policies to the new areas. The Plan Amendment process set out under the NEPDA requiring consultation and notice to ministries, municipalities, agencies and the public will apply to the five areas. The NEC anticipates that some of the Amendments will be initiated shortly since most of the areas have been studied and draft amendments prepared awaiting the Cabinet Decision to include the lands in the NEPA.

Proposed amendments to Ontario Regulation 826 (Designation of Area of Development Control) under the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act 

Ontario Regulation 826 (O. Reg. 826) describes the area of Development Control under the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act (NEPDA), and defines the lands within the Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP) Area for which development permits from the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) are required.  

Development Control was first implemented in 1975, prior to the approval of the NEP, such that the area designated for Development Control and the NEP Area are not aligned in some places. The Town of Halton Hills recently finalized its comprehensive zoning bylaw (CZBL No. 2010-0050) which applies zoning to lands that are currently located outside of the NEP Area but are subject to Development Control pursuant to O. Reg. 826. These areas are now proposed to be removed from the area of Development Control described under O. Reg. 826 in order to properly align the Development Control area within the Town of Halton Hills with the boundaries of the NEP Area, thereby allowing land use to be regulated through the applicable zoning bylaws.   

The bylaw also identifies the boundaries for three Minor Urban Centres within the NEP Area: Hendersons Corners, Limehouse and Silver Creek. Since land use control within a Minor Urban Centre with an approved official plan which is not in conflict with the NEP may be exercised through bylaws passed under the Planning Act, these Minor Urban Centres are also proposed to be removed from the area of Development Control.

This proposed amendment is one of a series of similar amendments that have been brought forward since 1985 to refine the boundaries of the area of Development Control, and as municipalities adopt bylaws that are consistent with the NEP and that can be applied within their urban areas once Development Control is removed. Comments received during the comment period set forth in the proposal notice posted on the Environmental Registry will be considered by the Minister of Natural Resources prior to making a decision on whether or not to amend Ontario Regulation 826.

Map showing proposed areas to be removed from the area of Development Control in the Town of Halton Hills

Proposed Amendments to Ontario Regulation 826 (O. Reg. 826) is posted on the Environmental Registry for a commenting period, ending March 17, 2014


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