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Metro Vancouver board endorses Surrey’s South Campbell Heights development plan

Close vote means city can proceed with industrialization of environmentally sensitive area
By a narrow margin Metro Vancouver directors have signed off on an amendment to redesignate South Campbell Heights lands for industrial use. (File photo/City of Surrey graphic)

In a 69-to-65 vote the Metro Vancouver board has signed off on Surrey’s plan for industrial development in the South Campbell Heights area.

The vote took place at Friday’s (Feb. 25) regular meeting of Metro Vancouver directors.

It approved final reading of an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy that will move Metro Vancouver’s urban containment boundary to allow mixed industrial use in environmentally-sensitive South Campbell Heights.

Environmentalists have questioned the wisdom of such development an area that includes the fish bearing Little Campbell River, numerous other wildlife habitats, and part of the Brookswood aquifer.

Surrey Board of Trade president and CEO Anita Huberman was quick to respond to the decision with a statement of support.

“The Surrey Board of Trade is pleased with this monumental decision in favour of economic competitiveness, industrial land, business and job growth,” she wrote.

“This is a signal to the global business community that we are ready to do business, grow business, and bring business into Surrey and in the Metro Vancouver region.”

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The approval came despite pleas from multiple delegations – including Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell and councillor Joanne Charles – to vote it down.

Chappell and Charles both rejected the claims of a City of Surrey report on the plan – prompted by a January vote to send it back to Metro staff and Surrey staff to address concerns raised by directors – that consultation with the First Nation had been ongoing.

They cited the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the general principles of reconciliation and the requirement for “prior consultation” on any action that would affect Indigenous people’s futures – which, they noted, had been adopted as policy by both Metro Vancouver and Surrey council.

The intent of the declaration could only be properly fulfilled by government-to-government consultation, they said, rather than including them only as “stakeholders.”

Discussions cited by Surrey had only been preliminary, they said and had not included all members of the SFN council. They had also been held only since Dec. 1, even though Surrey staff had been actively working on the current form of the South Campbell Heights Plan since July.

Historically, the principal source of contamination of the Semiahmoo Bay has been the Little Campbell River, Chappell noted.

Although SFN and Surrey have scheduled a council-to-council meeting for March 14, the only other such meeting, they said, had taken place some three years ago after the current Surrey council was elected.

Asked by director Kim Richter whether the South Campbell Heights plan had been part of that discussion, Chappell was adamant.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “It was brought to our attention in July of last year – and not through the city.”

Arguing for the plan, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum – also a member of the Metro board – claimed, however, that Surrey council is “100 per cent committed” to “ongoing consultation and dialogue with Semiahmoo First Nation and other First Nations.”

“I have acknowledged and taken ownership of where we could have done better with consultation,” he said.

“We will do better,” he added. “The focus should be on (the plan’s) merits, not politics.”

“This project matters to Surrey and it matters to Metro Vancouver.”

Among board directors speaking against final reading of the amendment was White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker.

“Our council has taken the position that going forward on this project is far too premature,” he said. “I can’t see supporting it – there’s far too much work to be done before we can agree with it.”

Also speaking to the meeting as delegations, were many scientists and environmentalists who found nothing new in the Surrey report to indicate that such concerns as pollution of fish and other wildlife habitat and potential compromise of the Brookswood aquifer had been addressed.

Further, they found the report, presented to the board by Surrey community planning manager Preet Heer, glossed over Metro staff concerns that such development would challenge Metro’s current water and sewage management capability, while exaggerating the development’s access to transit by citing far-in-the-future TransLink planning.

“If this report were a high school geography report, it would get a C-minus,” environmental advocate Dr. Peter Stepney said.

Prior to the meeting a barrage of media releases from Semiahmoo First Nation and other community and environmental groups including A Rocha, Force of Nature and Friends of Hazelmere-Campbell Valley – as well as political group Surrey Connect (including Surrey councillors Brenda Locke and Jack Hundial) – voiced opposition to the plan.

Among points made were that the project was returned to the Metro Vancouver agenda as a last chance for it to meet the criteria of its 2040 Strategy – since the Metro Vancouver 2050 Strategy is only a month away from first adoptions.

“Under Metro 2050, McCallum’s current South Campbell Heights plan wouldn’t get past the new environmental standards,” the Surrey Connect release noted.

“Metro 2050 has a greater commitment to reconciliation/consultation, the environment, and containing sprawl.”

The Surrey Connect release also charged that more than $1 billion is likely to be made on property values in the area if it is zoned for industrial uses.

“The 650 acres in this development will increase in value by somewhere between one million per acre and three millions per acre,” the release said.

“This land value will spiral upwards the instant Metro Vancouver approves McCallum’s development.”

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