This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Agricultural Land Reserve in British Columbia, one of the most important pieces of land use legislation ever passed in this province.
Back in 1973, the ALR was put in place to protect farmland from the kind of rampant suburban development that was sweeping across green fields outside just about every major city in the western world.
The idea was that instead of suburban sprawl, what B.C. needed was food security, and security of land for farmers who would keep growing crops and raising livestock for generations to come.
Without the ALR, Langley and its neighbours, including Surrey, Maple Ridge, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack would look very different. There would be more low-density suburbia, more endless highways and cloverleafs crammed with traffic. The ALR hasn’t just preserved farmland. It’s forced us to more efficiently use the land we have free to develop for housing and industry.
It is possible to remove land from the ALR, something that is a necessary mechanism. Fortunately, it’s still done rarely. Far more attempted removals fail – there are properties in Langley whose owners have been trying to get them out of the ALR for decades, to develop them, and they’ve been repeatedly rebuffed by the Land Commission. That is exactly as it should be.
As we pass the 50 year mark of the ALR, we should remember that it’s possible to put more land into the reserve, as well as to take it out.
There are some nice plots of land in the Lower Mainland that weren’t included in the ALR back in the 1970s. Some of them remain in rural areas that aren’t, and shouldn’t be, developed.
As we look forward to the next 50 years of farmland protection under the ALR, it might be nice if governments encouraged people to add their properties to the reserve.