“The purpose of this Plan is to provide for the maintenance of the Niagara Escarpment and land in its vicinity substantially as a continuous natural environment, and to ensure only such development occurs as is compatible with that natural environment.” So states the Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP), the Ontario government’s land use plan that controls development on the Escarpment.

Since the early 1970s, the Ontario government has had in place a program that aims to protect the Niagara Escarpment from environmentally inappropriate land use and development. The centrepiece of this program is the Niagara Escarpment Plan. Adopted in 1985, it is Canada’s first and most extensive environmentally based land use plan. It was created under the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act (NEPDA) which had been enacted by the Ontario Legislature with all-party support in 1973. The main purpose of the Act and the Plan is to protect the natural environment of the Niagara Escarpment and the land in its vicinity. Only those land uses or developments which are compatible with the protection of the Niagara Escarpment environment should be permitted within the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area. The NEPDA and NEP take precedence over all other provincial and municipal laws and regulations.

The Act also established the Niagara Escarpment Commission and required it to develop a land use plan which would achieve several important objectives, as set out in section 8 of the Act:

  1. to protect unique ecologic and historic areas;
  2. to maintain and enhance the quality and character of natural streams and water supplies;
  3. to provide adequate opportunities for outdoor recreation;
  4. to maintain and enhance the open landscape character of the Niagara Escarpment in so far as possible, by such means as compatible farming or forestry and by preserving the natural scenery;
  5. to ensure that all new development is compatible with the purpose of this Act as expressed in section 2;
  6. to provide for adequate public access to the Niagara Escarpment; and
  7. to support municipalities within the Niagara Escarpment Planning Area in their exercise of the planning functions conferred upon them by the Planning Act.
The Act is now under the jurisdiction of the Minister and Ministry of Natural Resources.