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D'Avignon: Livelihoods, lifestyle depend on stable supply of industrial land (Vancouver Sun)

By Greg D'Avignon

Economic forecasters predict an additional million people will live in the Metro Vancouver region by 2040. That’s a population 40 per cent larger than today, and the people will all need housing, goods, retail and other services as well as government-funded services such as education and health care.

Population growth means we need to plan now to have the investment, resulting jobs and infrastructure to support these additional families and enable the region’s economy to grow and generate the revenues required to pay for publicly funded services.

One key challenge is to institute better planning and co-ordinated action to support the efficient movement of goods important to our daily lives, as well as to the foreign customers to whom B.C. and other western Canadian provinces export resources and other products through the Greater Vancouver Gateway.

Specifically, as a world-class port and major North American trade gateway, Metro Vancouver requires access to an adequate supply of well-situated industrial land. Unfortunately, the amount of land for industrial use by the port — and the transportation and logistics industries linked to the port — is shrinking. In time, this will put the competitiveness of the Vancouver Gateway at risk and also damage the B.C. and Canadian economies.

In the last 30 years, the region has needed for various residential and other commercial uses close to 21,600 acres or 75 per cent of the 28,200 acres of industrial land available, according to a Metro Vancouver industrial land study published in 2010. Taking into account valid estimates of land currently available for industrial use and the current demand of 250 to 400 acres per year for expanding port-related needs, within a decade the region will be faced with real and significant challenges to its future growth.

Failing to plan to manage the growth of Gateway-related economic activity means we will miss the economic opportunities presented by the shift to an increasingly Asian-centric global economy. The consulting firm McKinsey projects the world will add three billion middle-class consumers in the coming decades, mostly in Asia. The most powerful force shaping the world economy will be the growing demand of the expanding global middle class for the commodities, products and services that Canada is well placed to offer. In B.C., we cannot respond to this opportunity using the current approach toward managing the Gateway.

The lack of industrial land (and the escalating price of the land that exists) is already affecting the region in the form of foregone employment and economic activity. Take, for example, a recent large retailer’s decision to expand across Canada. It needed space for a million-square-foot distribution facility. With its cargo containers already arriving in our port, it made sense to locate that new facility here. With few choice properties available in the Lower Mainland, lengthy development timelines, and high industrial land prices, it turned to Calgary. It was an economic loss for our region and for the workers who would otherwise have found employment had the facility been developed in Greater Vancouver.

One-fifth of all goods traded in Canada come in and out of Port Metro Vancouver, supporting more than 76,000 jobs, directly and through smaller companies in transportation and service sectors that depend on the port. A growing population will require new businesses and operations such as that proposed by the major retailer referenced above.

While we might not notice the impact directly, municipalities and the public benefit from industrial lands in a significant and real way. For every $1 in local taxes paid, industrial lands typically consume on average 25 cents in locally provided services. An adequate land supply for industrial purposes reduces conflict for communities and sustains them over the long term. When planned well, an industrial land bank can ensure high paying employment within the city core and contribute to municipalities across the region by subsidizing the residential tax base and quality of life.

Adopting comprehensive and practical planning that allocates adequate industrial land must be a top priority for all levels of government and the business community.

We must set out and adhere to a fruitful vision and strategy for industrial land and transportation planning not just for the port, but for the entire metro region, leading to a plan that is connected to the real economy of today and tomorrow. The plan must be supported by transparent and timely decision-making processes that advance the collective regional and provincial interest.

Unfortunately, this is not the case today. Currently, plans are often undermined, slowed or rejected based on opposition that ignores the wider context and the region’s economic needs. Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy also misses this crucial economic test on almost every level and now the recent Supreme Court decision questions its validly.

Comprehensive regional planning and cooperation, however, can and must be achieved not just to maintain our quality of life, but to ensure there is economic growth to support it. Through leadership, a regional plan that is progressive and competitive can be achieved with a rational and broad based dialogue where stakeholders come together to find a solution to the looming industrial land shortage and a commitment to the efficient movement of goods through and within the region to the benefit of us all.

As posted on the Vancouver Sun