What is an Official Plan


If you have ever been to a local city council meeting or spoke with someone who is deep into local politics, you have most likely heard the term “Official Plan”. Nearly all municipalities in Ontario and Canada for that matter have what is called an Official Plan. This document might sound ominous and important, and that’s because it is.

This is a document that shapes the present day and future decisions surrounding your municipality and its direction of growth.

Naturally, we do not have time to read through our 600+ page municipal Official Plan but don’t worry, we are here to help. Here is what you need to know when it comes to your municipal Official Plan.

What is an Official Plan?

An Official Plan is a document that describes your municipal council or planning board’s policies on how land in your community should be used. It is prepared with input from your community in order to serve your community. This helps to ensure that future planning and development will meet the specific public needs.

An official plan deals mainly with issues such as:

  • Where new housing, industry, offices and shops will be located
  • What services like roads, watermains, sewers, parks and schools will be needed
  • When, and in what order, parts of your community will grow
  • Community improvement initiatives

Why do we need an Official Plan?

An Official Plan is the guideline for the direction of the growth of your municipality. This document makes the public aware of the municipality’s general land use planning policies.

The Official Plan also provides a way to evaluate and settle conflicting land uses while meeting local, regional and provincial interests.

The public needs an Official Plan to help all members of your community understand how their land may be used now and in the future.

Who creates this document/who says what it contains? 

This document is put together by planning professionals at the municipality, and external consultants. Guidance and input from the general public that resides in the municipality is also a large factor. The municipal council then votes the Official Plan into existence after ensuring that the final draft is completed in the best interest of the municipality and all those who live in it.

This process of creating an Official Plan takes years to complete. In that timeframe, many meetings with consultants, community stakeholder groups, municipal council, and the public take place to ensure that all voices are being heard.

What does this mean for the Public?   

Once an official plan is in effect, it guides all of the municipality’s planning decisions. It means that the local council and municipal officials must follow the plan. All applications ranging from a large-scale development to an addition on your home must conform to the Official Plan and the policies inside of it.

With those same applications, all new services such as sewer or watermains must also conform to the plan. In addition, bylaws including zoning must also conform to the Official Plan. You can now see why this one document can take years to create.

How can you get involved? 

When the time comes for your municipalities Official Plan review, you can take part in planning the future of your community by:

  • Researching the proposed Official Plan
  • Considering how the plan might affect you, your property, and your community
  • Attend information sessions, open houses, and public meetings that are held to discuss the plan
  • Provide your opinions at the public meetings, and or making written submissions to the council (one of which you must do in order to qualify for the right to appeal)
  • Reach out to your counsellor, and work with municipal staff to resolve your concerns.

The Takeaway 

An Official Plan is arguably the most important document. A municipality has because it shapes the municipality for the future needs of its residents. 

Not only that, but it allows the general public to get involved nearly every step of the way. 

This means that getting this document right the first time is crucial for everyone. Ensuring that the policies inside are beneficial to all those who wish to live and work in the municipality is important.  An appeal the Official Plan is a costly and timely process, and your input could make the difference. 

You can visit the Hamilton, or Burlington Official Plan Pages by clicking through on your specific municipality.

We hope this helped you better understand your municipality, and how it functions. Please consider visiting the Hamilton-Halton Home Builders’ Association website for more articles like this.