The Halifax Regional Plan review: “Unprecedented population growth” puts the pressure on decision-makers 9Jan2022

“In the last few years, Halifax has experienced unprecedented population growth; going from an approximate 1% growth rate in the earlier 2000s to a 2% annual growth rate in the last few years. This sudden change began in 2016 and has continued since… this year, with our population increasing by 2.5% to 459, 938.” (Source: What We Heard Report, PDF Page 431). An annual growth rate of 2.5%, if maintained, translates to a doubling time of 28 years. Where will the new residents live? “Between 1992 and 2014, Halifax nearly doubled in area but only grew in population by a fifth. To ensure continued access to nature, livable communities, and lower our tax burden we must control the sprawl of development.”  – Our HRM Alliance. Our HRM Alliance has been a strong advocate of The Halifax Green Network Plan (HGNP) as a mechanism to “protect the areas that are crucial to our human and non-human ecosystems, and to direct growth to the areas where we need it the most”. The HGNP remains to be fully implemented. The New Regional Plan, now being developed, – and how the province get’s involved – will play a big role in whether and how that happens.
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Delving into the current Regional Plan review  can be challenging because of the voluminous materials and complex consultation and decision-making processes but how it all pans out  affects all of us; accordingly,  it behooves as many of us as possible delving into it, a least a bit.

Doing so is simplified in some ways by the form in which  the public documents are now routinely made available: online as PDF documents. For example the latest item, the What We Heard Report, released on Dec 7, 2021 is 1240 pages long and involves a multitude of individual documents. If one is interested in a certain geographic area or topic,  the document can be opened in a web browser (e.g. Firefox) and a search conducted for a key word or phrase e.g., Williams Lake. Then you can go through the places where it is cited pretty quickly and flag the items that pique one’s interest – or concern.

The organization of the What We Heard Report and where items are located can be a  difficult to decipher because there is not a simple pagination going from page 1 to 1240; it consists of different sections, each with its own pagination (or none). If the document is opened in Adobe Acrobat Reader, however, each page will have a PDF page number.  This table gives the PDF page numbers for separate sections of the report:

Section & Subject PDF page no.
Introductory Stuff  p 1
A: Revised Engagement Plan  p 14
B: Regional Plan Review Remaining Work Plan  p 25
C: Site-Specific Amendment Requests for Consideration through the Regional Plan Review Process p 39
D: Preliminary Housing & Population Analysis – Supplemental Report p 428
E: What We Heard Report p 454
F: Engagement Plan Amendments p 1236

There’s a  a lot of highly informative material and many thoughtful comments by citizens in the  What We Heard Report and everyone is encouraged to have a look – ‘hope this helps.  Keep an eye on the HRM website for announcements of further engagement events.

So where are we in the Regional Plan review and what’s left to do?

Below extracts from several HRM documents are compiled to give a quick overview.


The Halifax Regional Municipal Planning Strategy (Regional Plan) is a strategic document built on a common vision and principles for the Municipality to achieve balanced and sustainable growth. Originally adopted in 2006, the Regional Plan provided the first comprehensive guide for future growth for the entire Municipality following amalgamation. The Plan established policy for a 25-year horizon, from 2006-2031, with minor reviews expected every 5 years.

After 5 years of directing and managing growth in the region, the first Regional Plan review (RP+5) was initiated in 2011 to ensure the Plan still reflected the Municipality’s goals for growth and development. The Plan was readopted in 2014. The second five-year review will be undertaken beginning in 2020, with Regional Council approval and adoption anticipated in 2022. The next significant review of the Regional Plan is being planned for 2026-2030 (at the end of the 25-year horizon of the 2006 Regional Plan).


The Regional Plan policies affect fundamental aspects of living in the Halifax Regional Municipality. The policies are complex, far reaching and are therefore important for the Region’s economic development and the vitality of community life. At its core, the Regional Plan proactively defines the regional settlement direction and pattern, that influence the long-term environmental, social and economic resiliency of the community. It includes policies that direct the Municipality in its response to considering many important issues, including community design, environmental protection, healthy communities, affordable housing, transportation, and economic development. By establishing the geographical location of development, and where intensification should occur to accommodate growth, the land use pattern significantly affects service delivery and HRM operations (i.e.: transit, parks and road maintenance) and therefore affects the success of the municipality.

“The two largest contributors to Halifax’s population growth over the last few years are
immigration (new permanent residents of Canada) and interprovincial migration (people moving from other Canadian provinces). The net number of non-permanent residents (people
coming from outside Canada with work or study visas) has also increased over the last few
years.” (Source: What We Heard Report, PDF Page 431)


What’s Happened (as of  Dec 7, 2021)

February 25, 2020: Regional Council initiation of the Regional Plan Review process. As part of the initiation, Council adopted a Public Participation Program to guide the public engagement for the review.  The focus of Phase 1  was to introduce the Municipality’s approach to the Regional Plan Review and receive feedback.

December 15, 2020: an updated program was adopted by Council to reflect the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on engagement efforts

May 20, 2021: The Themes and Directions Report was released
It was the first major deliverable of the Regional Plan Review. The purpose of the document was to explain the scope of the Regional Plan Review to the public, stakeholders and Council, and to seek feedback. The document shared ideas about key planning issues and provided details of the work to be completed during the Review

May 20, 2021-July 16, 2021: Public engagement on the Regional Plan Review’s Themes & Directions Report. Themes & Directions engagement activities included a Shape Your City page with a variety of resources (, six Virtual Q&A Sessions, an online survey, an online comment forum, a dedicated phone number and project email (, Board and Committee meetings, and stakeholder meetings….In addition to the broad feedback provided as part of the engagement process, staff have received 53 requests from property owners or their representatives for amendments to the Regional Plan for specific properties or areas of land.

Dec 7, 2021: What We Heard Report released. It  provides a comprehensive summary of the engagement and feedback received in response to the Regional Plan Review: Themes and Directions Report; it also includes site specific requests/proposals from developers, and a section on population growth and anticipated housing needs.

What’s Ahead (as of  Dec 7, 2021) It appears that Phase 3, which unfolds over the first 6 months of 2022, will be the final opportunity for citizens to have input directly to the Regional Plan. Of course we can talk to or write our elected reps anytime; in addition to the Regional Councillors and Mayor, those may need to include the MLAs and the Premier.

May 2022 (Target Date) Quick Adjustments – cited in Executive Summary in the What We Heard Report
Cited in Engagement Plan Amendments p. 1238: Phase 3 will take place over the first 6 months of 2022. The goal of this engagement is to solicit feedback on the projects and smaller policy adjustments being made to advance housing projects in advance of the Regional Plan Draft Document. [It appears this will be the final opportunity for citizens to have input.]

Dec 2022 (Target Date) Regional Plan Draftcited in Executive Summary
Cited in Engagement Plan Amendments p. 1238: Phase 4 will take place following the release of the Regional Plan Draft Document. The goal of this engagement will be to provide an overview of the draft of the Regional Plan amendments and highlight how public input from the previous engagement phases has been used to inform recommendations. This is intended to help residents, stakeholders and Council understand how feedback has been received and used, particularly in the absence of more traditional in-person engagement.

Spring 2023 (Target Date) Future Growth cited in Executive Summary
Cited in Engagement Plan Amendments p. 1238: Phase 5 will take place once the Regional Plan has been amended and will focus on advancing lands to support the long-term growth of the municipality.

Detailed scheduling for each engagement phase will be released on the website when available.

Details for PHASES 3,4,5

Work Occurring Outside Regional Plan Review
There are also a number of pieces of policy work that require the attention and focus of specialized teams. It is staff’s intention to bring more information forward on staffing and resourcing requirements as part of the budget and business planning process, and in subsequent meetings of Regional Council. Below are key pieces of work that will be conducted outside of the Regional Plan Review. An overview of this work is provided, as well as an estimate of the potential housing units that are estimated to result from the policy work.

Some related documents, websites. 

Halifax Regional Plan
Section of the website

Our HRM Alliance
What we do: The Halifax Green NetworkComplete Communities

Let’s Talk Smart Cities: Halifax Regional Municipality (PDF)
Tyler Farmer, JUN 30 2021 on “In March 2021, ICTC asked Halifax residents (Haligonians) what a smart city means to them. Three main themes emerged”

Smart growth success story?: Commercial redevelopment and neighborhood change in Halifax’s North End (PDF)
AnneTotten and Mikiko Terashima 2018. Published in Plan Canada Winter 2018

The dilemma of dispersion: Barriers to smart growth and recentralization in Halifax suburbs (PDF)
Scott Low, Dec. 2016. Thesis for the  Master of Planning Program at Dalhousie University. Interestingly, he cites “Halifax’s slow growth rates” – those were to change very quickly!

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