Oshawa councillor says no secrets discussed in Region, Province “staff-to-staff” Official Plan talks

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Published May 28, 2024 at 4:34 pm

Durham Region

Transparency concerns over a package of modification requests to Durham Region’s Official Plan from the provincial Housing ministry being resolved “staff-to-staff” instead of through a staff report are largely unfounded, says the region’s Planning & Economic Development Committee Chair.

Environmental group Stop Sprawl Durham said the decision to bypass the usual report and have senior staff from the Region and the ministry hash out any Official Plan tweaks on their own is a “highly unusual approach” and doesn’t allow for all regional councillors to consider the modifications.

“The Envision Durham Official Plan process was designed to be a transparent, public process,” Stop Sprawl Durham co-leads Helen Brenner and Abdullah Mir said in their letter to the regional committee and its chair, Oshawa Councillor Bob Chapman. “Therefore, it is expected that a staff report outlining Durham Region’s response to any proposed draft changes by the ministry be made public. Failure to maintain transparency with the residents of Durham Region is highly problematic and undermines established democratic processes.”

Chapman, however, said a staff report is not necessary because a decision on the Official Plan has already been made.

“Council already has a position and staff has its direction,” he said. “When they’re finished the staff-to-staff meetings it will go on the information package, which is available to all council members.”

Chapman said most of the 77 draft modifications from the Province to Envision Durham, Durham Region’s updated Official Plan ratified last year, were minor, adding that any substantive requests from the ministry would go to Regional Council anyway because a ‘reconsideration’ would then be required.

Envision Durham – the Official Plan for Durham Region

Stop Sprawl Durham’s concerns stem from the chain of correspondence that led to their letter, with Durham Planning & Economic Development Commissioner Brian Bridgeman receiving correspondence from the ministry on the proposed modifications May 6. He then responded a day later at committee saying a report would be prepared in time for the May 29 regular council meeting.

An email was then sent by Chapman to Regional Chair John Henry and the committee members on May 15 stating regional and ministry staff would resolve the differences themselves, with no staff report needed for the May 29 council meeting.

In his email, Chapman said Bridgeman and his staff told committee members they can work with the ministry to resolve the proposed modifications “staff-to-staff.”

“Under the circumstances, given the ongoing discussions with Housing ministry staff, and given that the Council position is established, there will not be a staff report from Regional planning staff to the May 29 Council meeting.”

Stop Sprawl Durham said the proposed modifications that were not ‘housekeeping’ in nature would require “professional advice” from staff to ensure both Council and the public can understand and evaluate the options. “It is imperative that Council and the public are afforded the opportunity to participate in all processes concerning the Durham Region Official Plan, including those related to these modifications.”

The group wants staff to prepare a report for the June 4 committee meeting outlining their recommendations for a special council meeting to be held “as soon as possible” because without a report formally documenting Durham’s response to the 77 items, “there would be no public record outlining Durham’s Planning staff recommendations and Council’s final position.”

Chapman, however, said the the correspondence from the Housing ministry is already available to the public and the information package will be public when the meetings have concluded.

“We’ve already passed Envision Durham. This is just correspondence.”

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