The Nova Scotia government is asserting more control over planning and housing development in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). Newly introduced Bill 329 includes dozens of amendments to HRM’s charter to impose new requirements for the planning and development approvals process and to give the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing authority to overrule the municipality and/or dictate policy related to various planning and development manners. As well, a two-year rate freeze is proposed on all development-related fees and levies, which would additionally prohibit the introduction of any new charges unless the Minister formally agrees.
“We have an unprecedented housing problem, and the solutions need to be bold,” maintains John Lohr, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “This legislation gives the minister the authority to intervene on behalf of Nova Scotians when outdated policies and practices are slowing down construction and keeping them from accessing a safe and affordable home, faster.”
Under the proposed legislation, the Province is exempt from the requirement to consult with HRM prior to Bill 329’s adoption. Other amendments would: remove healthcare facilities from municipal planning and development oversight, retroactive to January 1, 2023; mandate a “trusted partner program” to create a channel for qualifying development proponents to receive expedited approvals; and convey authority to the HRM’s Chief Administrative Officer to sign off on some matters in lieu of Council.
Lohr cites recommendations from the provincially appointed Executive Panel on Housing in the Halifax Regional Municipality as the impetus for the proposed new legislation. However, HRM has responded with concerns.
“This proposed legislation is an incursion into municipal authority, undermining the public role in thoughtful, responsible planning that supports not only housing but community livability,” says Mayor Mike Savage.