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Metro Vancouver hits pause button on South Campbell Heights development proposal

Environmentalists, industry advocates weigh in on Surrey’s plan for industrial expansion
Metro Vancouver’s board of directors voted Friday (Jan. 28) to send a proposal to develop South Campbell Heights lands for employment back to Metro staff for discussion of concerns that have been raised. (File photo/City of Surrey graphic)

Metro Vancouver’s board of directors has sent the proposal for expanding industry into the environmentally sensitive South Campbell Heights area back to the drawing board.

At its virtual meeting Friday (Jan. 28) the board approved, by a narrow 64-61 margin, a motion of referral from director – and Surrey councillor – Linda Annis that sends the proposed amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy back to Metro Vancouver staff for discussion of concerns raised by directors with City of Surrey staff.

The move came despite impassioned pleas from director (and Surrey mayor) Doug McCallum, who attempted, unsuccessfully to have the motion ruled out of order.

“If you refer it, it gets stopped unconditionally,” he said.

Other directors had raised the notion that referring the proposal, submitted by Surrey as an amendment to the 2040 Regional Growth Strategy, essentially kills it for the near future.

Metro Vancouver is in the process of transitioning into its not-yet-approved 2050 strategy, and it’s likely the proposal – to move Metro Vancouver’s urban containment boundary to allow mixed industrial use in the South Campbell Heights/Little Campbell River area – would have to be re-submitted by Surrey as part of the new plan.

READ ALSO: Metro to decide Jan. 28 on South Campbell Heights redesignation

But Annis said that, as much as she supports industrial development for the city, “I was not elected to ignore the residents of Surrey.”

She said she had received over 900 letters from residents in the space of a week that raised concerns about Metro Vancouver signing off on Surrey’s plan.

“What they have said over and over is, ‘Why wasn’t (there) proper consultation with residents and with the Semiahmoo First Nation?’ ” she noted.

Following the meeting Annis said she considers her motion “putting a pause on it while the city does its due diligence.”

“I’m all about economic development for the city and we do need more light industrial space,” she said, adding she believes the area could accommodate more industry while still protecting environmental habitat.

“This (proposal) was being rushed through. There is a need for us to do it slowly and properly – it will be a win-win for everybody.”

Industrial advocates, including Chris Gardner of the Independent Contractors and Business Association noted that “there is an acute shortage of industrial land” in Metro Vancouver.

“The supply chain is not as robust as we thought it was – we need to de-risk the supply chain by moving it closer to home,” he said.

McCallum and fellow proponents (and Surrey councillors) Alison Patton and Laurie Guerra also advanced the view that consultation has been ongoing and that further detailed consultation with stakeholders would follow approval of the amendment by Metro Vancouver.

But it appeared that a major sticking point with many directors opposed to the plan was the nature of the consultation that has taken place thus far with SFN.

The nation had formally written all directors expressing their opposition to approving the plan at this point.

“The biggest part of my concern is that consultation is not a box you tick,” Chief Harley Chappell told the meeting. “It’s an ongoing process.”

SFN councillor Joanne Charles told directors that consultation with the First Nation on the plan amounted to some 14 hours of meetings and that it was still “in its infancy.”

In response to directors’ questions she said all meetings so far had been with staff, and not face-to-face with Surrey council.

“We don’t have that kind of relationship, unfortunately,” she said.

Directors in opposition said this runs counter to positions the Metro Vancouver board has taken on the need for reconciliation.

Other concerns raised by board members was the plan’s potential for contributing to climate change through greenhouse gases, as TransLink has said the area is not adequately served by transit, which would mean that workers in industry in the area would be predominantly using vehicles to get to and from work.

The meeting also heard many delegations from scientists and environmental experts that industrial development could catastrophically affect the environment in the Little Campbell River watershed.

READ ALSO: Video offers top 10 reasons to oppose Surrey’s South Campbell Heights development plan

It would impact the habitat of wildlife – including salmon, fish and barn owls, directors heard – and that rainwater, instead of seeping into the ground, would run directly off roofs and other hard surfaces, carrying pollutants directly into the shallow aquifer beneath the South Campbell Heights area while causing erosion and flooding of the river itself.

“I’m not sure how many more scientists we need to hear from,” said director Jen McCutcheon, voicing her opposition to the plan.

Other directors pushed back against the idea of Metro Vancouver dictating to municipalities how they should run their own business, however.

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