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Planning in the local government context deals with land use, social and community services, housing, cultural and heritage resources, environment, economic development, finance, transportation and infrastructure.

The planning process itself involves problem-solving, visioning and working through a variety of technical, policy and legislative issues using acceptable procedures. Planning involves a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that decisions meet the economic, environmental and social objectives of communities.

Planning occurs on different scales: international, national, provincial, regional and local.

At the global level, some issues that cross national, provincial or international borders can have impacts that need to be addressed locally. Taking a coordinated approach to issues such as climate change, the effects of increasing density and urbanization, or environmentally sustainable infrastructure, can lead to more sustainable local solutions.

Planning at the provincial level is important because provincial objectives, program and initiatives have implications for local governments and communities. Coordination among the various provincial agencies, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, local governments, communities and the private sector is key to developing partnerships that will protect provincial interests.

Provincial initiatives include:

  • agricultural land reserves;
  • drinking water program;
  • drought information;
  • independent power projects;
  • West Nile Virus;
  • land and resource management plans;
  • private managed forest lands; and,
  • community safety.

In British Columbia there are 188 local governments, consisting of 161 municipalities (villages, districts, towns and cities), 27 regional districts and the Island's Trust. Each local government is responsible for their own planning initiatives, tailored to reflect their community's unique needs and aspirations, and for amending and updating their official community plans and related bylaws.


Locally elected politicians on municipal councils or regional district boards are responsible for making planning and land use decisions. They have a range of planning tools available to assist them with this responsibility. For example:

One of the most important and often controversial responsibilities of local governments is the development and management of land. Within the context of the social, economic and environmental goals of their communities, local governments have the ability to control land use and its development.

This means local governments can determine the plan designations for an area, the density of a neighbourhood and the size and dimensions of a lot. They prescribe the nature and level of servicing, as well as the protection of hazardous and sensitive environmental areas. They can determine what type, height and size of buildings will be permitted and they approve building and occupancy permits.


When local governments are considering changes to land use, they are generally required to hold a public hearing in order for the elected officials to hear submissions from persons who believe that their interest in property is affected by the change. Another way for local governments to receive input is by creating an advisory planning commission which is an independent body composed of local residents that makes recommendations to elected officials about the proposed land use matters that are referred to it.

The role of the Local Government Department is to support the system of local government through areas such as infrastructure, finance, policy development, governance and planning. The Department also furthers relations between local governments in British Columbia and provides advice, assistance and support for international, national, provincial, and regional and community planning. It also supports dispute resolution when communities have disagreements.


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