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‘There’s good housing and bad’: B.C.’s fast-tracked permitting plan draws environmentalist’s concern

B.C. Wilderness Committee needs more information, but expressed skepticism
Construction crews work on an affordable housing project for victims of gender-based violence in Chilliwack on Thursday, July 28, 2022. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Earlier this week, the province announced plans to overhaul its provincial permitting process as its latest measure to expedite homebuilding in the province, with ministers and the premier signalling that these changes would coincide with a broader review of all kinds of provincial permitting.

However, B.C. Wilderness Committee climate campaigner Peter McCartney is voicing concern around how these changes could have adverse impacts on the protection of B.C.’s natural environments.

Premier David Eby announced that the province will be removing some of the red tape in the form of paperwork for builders looking to get approval to construct new homes. The province will be creating a one-stop shop eliminating the need for multiple permit applications across multiple ministries to speed up the supply on the market. Housing minister Ravi Kahlon said that provincial authorities are currently dealing with 21,000 permits across the system, with about five to six per cent involving housing. The average processing time is said to be two years.

“With housing particular, there is good housing and there is bad housing,” McCartney said.

“It should be easier to turn a parking lot into an apartment building than it is to build a sub-division on the urban fringe. So if these changes come at the expense of wildlife or wetland protection, I would say that is a net negative. My hope is that it would enable us to build housing faster in the places that we actually want it, but not knowing how this new permitting process will work, I can’t say for sure that is the result.”

Land and Resource Minister Nathan Cullen signalled a broader review of other permitting processes is imminent.

“We have to do both things at once,” Cullen said. “We have created a task force across ministries to address all the different permits into one place for those prioritized projects that the Premier talked about,” said Cullen. “As well, we need to change the way we do business across all permitting in the province, both for housing and the natural resources sector. And any improvements we make, will help both.”

RELATED: B.C. to overhaul approval process for building houses in hopes of increasing supply

But McCartney said that details on specific changes are missing – including how this will affect resource extraction projects in particular.

“… I don’t love it when the province makes changes to natural resource review process without really telling us what they are doing,” said Peter McCartney. He added later that he is not sure if the permitting process for natural resource projects could get any faster.

“Logging and fracking companies barely have to get approval for destroying wildlife habitat and taking water from local rivers.”

The province did not consult the wilderness committee before Monday’s announcement, to the best of McCartney’s knowledge.

Public participation in reviewing permitting processes is “extremely vital” for environmental protection, McCartney added.

“I understand the desire to speed things up, but if that comes at the expense of some of the natural places we love in British Columbia, especially with regards to resource-extraction projects, this will be looked back on as a bad decision. Trying to fast-track resource extraction projects is a huge red flag for anyone who cares about the natural treasures of this province.”

Plans to speed up permitting was met with skepticism by others within the industry, including Truck Loggers Association executive director Bob Brash, who said he’s heard these kinds of promises before.

Black Press Media has reached out to Cullen’s ministry for additional context and comment.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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