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March 16, 2022

Built on trust: New delegation authority seeks to reduce development approval timelines, while maintaining good planning outcomes

Built on trust: New delegation authority seeks to reduce development approval timelines, while maintaining good planning outcomes
Bill 13 receives Royal Assent, which modifies the Planning Act to expand delegation authority for municipalities in Ontario. Here’s a quick primer on what all this means.

What is delegation authority?
The Planning Act defines the tools that municipalities can use to manage land use planning in Ontario.  It also allows municipal councils to delegate certain decisions to a committee or staff, such as decisions in respect of approval of adopted lower-tier official plan amendments, site plan, plans of subdivision and consents. Delegated authority is defined through a municipal delegation by-law, which stipulates the parameters needed to maintain trust between council and their delegate. Delegated authority does not impact the public engagement requirements of the Act.


How is delegation currently used?
Based on an OPPI survey of municipalities in the summer of 2021, approximately two-thirds of respondent municipalities currently delegate site plan control, while approximately one-third of respondents delegate draft plan of subdivision, consents and validation certificates (I understand this to mean that the remaining two-thirds of municipalities require these tools to be approved by council). The same survey suggested that when delegation was used, months were reduced from the approvals process (two-third of respondents said two to three months, while another 10 per cent said over four months!).

What does Bill 13 change?
Bill 13 amends the Planning Act to add a new authority to delegate planning decisions dealing with minor amendments to zoning by-laws, such as temporary use by-laws, lifting of a holding provision or other minor zoning by-law amendments. This new authority requires a municipality to establish official plan policies specifying the criteria to be used to define by-laws that may be delegated.

What is required to implement the new delegation authority?
An official plan amendment is required to establish the criteria that will be used to identify what type of amendments to the municipal zoning by-law will be considered minor and therefore may be delegated. In addition to approval of the official plan amendment, modifications to the municipal delegation by-law may be required (or establishing one, if you do not already have one).
What does this change mean for planning in Ontario?
Municipalities are facing increasingly complex challenges related to managing growth, climate change adaptation and mitigation, economic retention and development, providing adequate and affordable housing, meeting Planning Act timelines for development approvals and managing resources and budget constraints (to name a few). Ontario has a complex legislative environment within which development approvals fit.
Increasing the use of delegation has a number of benefits for municipalities:
  • Frees up council time to focus on strategic priorities
  • Frees up municipal staff time preparing detailed council reports on routine approvals
  • Avoids unnecessary delays on planning applications that implement council-approved policies and regulations
  • Retains the ability for elected officials to provide input directly to staff (and vice versa)
  • Allows elected officials to defer to judgement of professional staff for matters which are straightforward and technical in nature
  • Maintains accountability through conditions, limitations and reporting outlined in delegation by-law

With the changes to the Planning Act, municipalities across the province should review their development approvals process and look to optimize delegations of decisions to staff, and ensure the parameters are in place to maintain the trusting relationship needed to be successful.

How did this change happen?
In 2019, OPPI celebrated 25 years of the RPP. During this reflective celebration (which was an energetic pre-COVID in-person conference), we asked members to envision the next 25 year of RPP. Through this engagement, we asked how professional planners can improve the planning system in Ontario. One area of focus was on the development approvals process, where many frustrations exist for all parties involved. As RPPs work for municipalities, developers, private consultants, agencies, academia (and more!), we have an intimate understanding of the development approvals process and how to improve it.

Through a series of consultation and engagement activities with members, those who work closely with RPPs and other organizations, a series of concepts were developed and refined. Increasing the use of municipal council delegation to staff was identified as a recommendation that utilized an existing Planning Act tool to alleviate some municipal pressures, manage efficient planning approvals, and improve service delivery, all while supporting economic development and housing supply. OPPI, along with a number of other organizations, submitted a letter to the Ministry on Dec 17, 2020 recommending increased delegation of municipal land use planning decisions. I am excited to see this change implemented.


The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Justine Giancola, RPP

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