New regulations increase local control, flexibility for farmland

AMENDMENTS to the Agricultural Land Commission Act are now in force, improving the ability of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to preserve farmland, encourage farming and protect local food supplies throughout British Columbia.

Bill 15 received royal assent last spring, and new regulations were developed in consultation with representatives of local governments and a technical working group that included the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the ALC and the BC Agriculture Council.

The changes strengthen the ALC by giving the commission more flexibility to create decision-making panels that can better consider local and regional circumstances for land within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). This amendment allows the ALC to reduce decision wait times for landowners and make better use of the commissioners, drawing on their expertise in a related technical field or land-use issue.

In addition, the process by which farmland can be permanently removed from the ALR will now go through a planning approach so that only local governments, First Nations and other prescribed bodies can make exclusion applications directly to the ALC. This change strengthens the exclusion application process by empowering local governments to ensure ALC decisions align with the land-use plans in their own communities. Private landowners can still request that their land be removed from the ALR provided their local government agrees and makes the application to the ALC.

During the recent Strengthening Farming public consultation, local governments indicated they need sufficient transition time to implement these changes. As a result of this feedback, this change will go into effect on September 30.

Other changes include:

* simplifying the ALC application fee process so ALR landowners only pay the local or First Nations governments their portions of an application fee, and if these governments later forward the application to ALC, pay the ALC directly for its portion of the fee;

* adding new decision-making criteria to prioritize the protection of the size, integrity and continuity of the land base that the ALC must consider when exercising any power or performing a duty under the act;

* bringing more rigour to the reconsideration process by clarifying the circumstances under which reconsiderations will proceed; and

* ensuring the ALC chair can give input to government regarding commissioner appointments.

Quick Facts:

* The ALR includes 46,159 square kilometres of B.C. that are preserved for agricultural use, which is equivalent to less than 5% of B.C.’s total land base.

* Prior to the establishment of the ALR in 1973, thousands of hectares of farmland were lost to development every year.