Some Surrey city councilors fear that a corporate recommendation to ‘streamline’ the city’s environmental development permitting process by handing over responsibilities to higher levels of government could hamper Surrey’s checks and balances on development. territory Development.
A progress report on the Surrey Economic Action and Recovery Plan presented to council on July 27 contains recommendations on how environmental review permits and approvals administered under federal and provincial laws should be streamlined . The next council meeting is September 15th.
The company report noted that on July 25, 2016, the council of the day approved a zoning bylaw on the protection of the Surrey shoreline as well as environmental development permit requirements for sensitive ecosystems and steep slopes. , which, according to the report, are “important initiatives that help preserve Surrey’s natural nature.” areas. But when these initiatives were introduced, their administration and overlap with federal and provincial responsibilities “was not fully defined” and over the past two years this has created a “bottleneck in the process.” staff review and significantly delayed applications, often with little or no change from the plans originally proposed.
The report notes that changes resulting from a “best practice review” will see qualified environmental professionals working directly with federal and provincial agencies “to obtain all required environmental approvals, including the use of reviews by peers, as appropriate, both on-site and off-site. work required for the proposed developments ”, with staff focusing on the preparation of“ terms of reference, guidelines, checklists and standards ”that PEQs can use to prepare reports for the province and / or federal Department of Fisheries and Fisheries. Oceans. These “improvements”, notes the company report, are scheduled for the third quarter of 2020.
Councilor Steven Pettigrew wanted to change the report but Mayor Doug McCallum told him he couldn’t. “You can like it or not like it, and have it done again, but we’re not going to make any corporate reporting changes,” McCallum said.
General manager Vincent Lalonde has confirmed this. “A corporate report is our technical document for you, so it’s really not, you’re right, it’s not up to the council to change it,” he told the mayor and council, but the recommendations contained in the report may or may not be supported.
Councilor Jack Hundial noted that a biologist position was created three years ago and asked why staff are asking the city to go back now.
Jean Lamontagne, Surrey’s director general of planning, explained that “mainly at the provincial level they were totally understaffed.
“We had to try to help process files that had an environmental aspect. Since then, the province has strengthened its office within the Surrey branch which deals with all environmental aspects of enforcement in the Fraser Valley and it makes sense that those decisions, where they belong, belong to the government. provincial to be processed for this purpose. , not on our side.
Councilor Brenda Locke said it was “disappointing” that the council could not remove the environmental recommendations from the report “and maybe staff look at them separately. I guess it seems to me that is part of the city’s due diligence.
“I still think it’s important that the city also has a say,” she said.
Councilor Linda Annis said it would be “very unfortunate to lose this part of the whole process through town hall. What we maybe need to do is see how we can make it more efficient, but I don’t think we can afford to lose that as part of the planning process.
McCallum said the only government agency that can issue the environmental permit is the Government of British Columbia.
“The city cannot issue the environmental permit,” he said. “We took the provincial post without really getting any results. “
He said he believed the recommendations put forward by staff in their report were more effective and that their adoption would be of “great help” to the environment and to the development industry. “I will therefore fully support the corporate report,” said McCallum.
Councilor Doug Elford also said he “fully” supports the report. “When I saw the environmental review, the extraction process, I was slightly worried,” he said. “However, the real problem here – I’ll just make a general statement – is that the law itself needs to be reviewed, revised and updated. This leaves too much discretion, there is too much gray area, which creates a lot of bottlenecks in the process. Really, the ministry needs to look at that and revisit this process because a lot of municipalities have backup issues, the same issues. It needs to be streamlined, it needs to be modernized. And this is the real basic problem.
Pettigrew said he was “very concerned” about the recommendations.
“I think it will seriously alter and affect the checks and balances that are made by the city,” he said. “Rather than trying to reduce it, I think we need to really look at the environmental process that we have. Our engineering department has a very strong environmental review process. We have our sustainable development department which bounces from one department to another from year to year. I think we have to take it to the next level.
“I’m just going to categorically reject this corporate report because I am not in a position to remove this piece, so I am forced to reject this entire corporate report, which I am not particularly happy about, but that’s what I’m going to have to do, ”Pettigrew said.
But despite expressed opposition, council approved the municipal staff’s proposed “streamlining” of the environmental clearance process.
City of Surrey Environment