Despite objections, regional government narrowly approves Surrey’s plan to expand industrial lands

Board votes 69-65 to develop rural land over protests from environmentalists, Semiahmoo First Nation

By Jesse Johnston| CBC News

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The regional government in Metro Vancouver has narrowly approved the City of Surrey’s plan to turn rural lands into an industrial park, despite objections from the Semiahmoo First Nation and environmentalists.

A slim majority of Metro Vancouver directors voted Friday to change its Urban Containment Boundary so Surrey can build an industrial park in South Campbell Heights.

The plan affects hundreds of acres of land near a watershed on the Surrey-Langley border.

After more than three hours of debate, directors voted 69-65.

Consultation at the heart of debate

The question of whether Surrey had done adequate consultations about the plan was at the forefront of Friday’s discussion — largely because the board debated the same issue within the last month.

Three weeks ago, the same regional board sent Surrey back to do more consultations on the project, specifically with the Semiahmoo First Nation.

The city came back to the table Friday saying it had done the work, but the nation said there has been no consultation.

“We have had zero intergovernmental conversations with the City of Surrey,” Semiahmoo Chief Harley Chappell said in an interview Friday.

“We’re not against development in our territories, but we are against rushed, or not well-planned development in our territories that may have adverse impacts on our waterways and water quality — and access to water.”

Surrey’s plan, first presented to the regional board last July, is to change the zoning designation for about 600 acres of land to allow for industrial development in the area.

The Surrey Board of Trade said rezoning the land directly south of the Campbell Heights industrial business park would create more than 20,000 jobs in the region and attract up to 135 businesses.

However, to proceed with the plan, Surrey needed the approval of Metro Vancouver because the land falls outside Surrey’s urban containment boundary which is intended to preserve agricultural and undeveloped areas.

Chappell said he was “surprised” by the board’s vote Friday, saying he often works with board members and believed they had an appetite for implementing reconciliation with Indigenous people.

“It’s frustrating, it’s upsetting. I’d really hoped that Metro Vancouver Board, as a whole, would have considered Aboriginal rights and title and implementation of reconciliation and UNDRIP legislation in their decision and that didn’t happen today.”

The debate took place over a series of Metro Vancouver meetings the past few months, with a number of different regional issues informing the discussion.

Several directors argued that the region’s Urban Containment Boundary needed to be respected, particularly given questions on how the industrial park would impact the Little Campbell River watershed. Concerns were raised about the lack of rapid transportation to the area and the precedent it could set for promoting further sprawl in the Fraser Valley.

At the same time, a number of mayors and Councillors believed that Surrey should have the right to make its own land-use decisions, and that they had made significant changes following the 2018 rejection of the original proposal.

It meant the yes and no votes did not break down along traditional political lines, or with all members of municipalities voting one way.

River is a major concern, chief says

For months, conservation groups and the Semiahmoo First Nation have lobbied to draw attention to how rezoning the natural area would negatively affect it, particularly the salmon-bearing Little Campbell River.

The nation is concerned that the amendment is contrary to the regions’ objectives, will lead to an increase of water run-off and pollution and harm municipal services such as sanitation for the nation.

“The risk, or fear, or the unknown that comes with projects of this size are the environmental impacts that trickle down — literally trickle down to Semiahmoo First Nation, which is at the mouth of the Tat-a-lu, the Little Campbell River,” he said.

Chappell said he was hopeful the nation will still play a role in steering how the area is used despite Friday’s decision.

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