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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

On the road to Richmond

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Delta Optimist

Farms not freeways poster on SFPR

Farms not freeways poster on SFPR

Harold Steves, a longtime Richmond councillor and former NDP MLA, was in Delta this week to sound the alarm bells over the loss of farmland to various development projects. He says Delta could end up looking like Richmond in 20 years.

Harold is, of course, the last farmer in West Richmond – and a local councillor. He was also one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve, created in the wake of the wave of development that was allowed to sweep away all the farms in that area. The consensus in the region was that Richmond was not a suitable place for development, being low lying, and thus susceptible to flooding, but also very high quality and productive farm land. But developers and land owners did not agree, and there was at that time no effective measure to prevent a council determined to allow a lot of very profitable land use change to take place.

The provincial government loves to boast of how green it is – and welcomes every photo op with a hybrid bus, or a run of the river power developer. But its actions are wholly the opposite. While the ALR is still on the books, the Commission which was set up to ensure the policies were effective has been gutted. The deal with the Tsawassen First Nation, and the Gateway program to build the South Fraser Perimeter Road both require large amounts of the best farmland in Delta – and so they are being loaded with sand right now. The railway sidings at Deltaport are also being expanded. The port, of course is actually reporting declining traffic but no matter. Any more than anyone is paying attention to the failure of the US to pull itself out of recession  – or the huge number of container ships idled and laid up around the world.

The conversion of agricultural land to development is one of the easiest ways to make money quickly. Sale of the top soil – for which there seems to be plenty of demand – provides a quick positive cash flow. And the change in land use designation – a mere stroke of the pen – has a dramatic effect on land value. There is quite a lot of land around that needs to be redeveloped – most of the Fraser River frontage on the North Arm in Vancouver, for instance. Lots of former sites previously used as gas stations. Such “brownfield” developments are problematic and quite expensive. So despite the strategy of building a compact urban region – which is by far the most economical from nearly every other perspective – gets trampled by the greed of the developers. “Me first and the gimme gimmes”. All of whom support the BC Liberal Party generously and are paid back handsomely. We pay for the roads and other utilities that make the developments work, and we also pay in our Medical Services Premiums as heart disease, obesity and diabetes continue to take their toll on a sedentary, single occupant vehicle population. As well as the casualties from vehicle collisions on the roads, of course.

There are lots of reasons to oppose the development of Delta – and many local residents are vocal in their opposition. Not that the BC Liberals are listening, which is why they lost the seat in Delta South, admittedly by a very tight margin. But the argument cannot be won by logic or reason when money shouts so loudly, and politicians say one thing and do the opposite. But once the crunch hits – and food costs in BC start to spiral – it will be too late. Because this land will not be brought back into food  production – any more than West Richmond will be. It is the one way entropy of development akin to the burning of the rain forest. The economy is the subsidiary of the environment, not the other way round. And our primary needs are clean air, clean water and food. They all come from natural resources – and the worse job that we do looking after them, the more it costs to clean up the consequences. And those costs are not borne by developers. They are “externalities” which we all pay. And which this government is determined will be ignored for now. So we pay later.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2010 at 10:52 am

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