HRM Promises Further Public Consultation (Kind of)

HRM’s Council adopted the new 500 page Halifax Common Master Plan and has promised further public consultation (kind of). Thank you to the ~100 citizens who wrote to help make this possible.
Friends of Halifax Common Executive have at least five major concerns about the plan as grounds for further public consultation. Here’s our summary:
1. Needs to Come back to the Public for further Public Consultation
2. Need for the Master Plan to Better Reflect Public Input and plan for the
entire 240 acres grant not just the left over bits.
3. Need to Address Major Imminent Disruptors to the Common
4. Need to Protect, Reclaim and Expand the Halifax Common
5. Need for Permanent HRM Citizens’ Stewardship Committee:
More details are below.
(Review the Plan here.)

As we’ve all learned during COVID access to public open space is vital for our physical and mental health. That’s why we need to protect it and plan for more.
 Thank you, FHC Executive

Halifax Common in 1859 with its boundaries between Robie, Cunard, Park and South Streets, as well as land leased to the Horticultural Society for the Public Gardens, area used for cricket grounds, area used for military exercising grounds, and the water-course from the Egg Pond to the pond in the Public Garden to Freshwater Brook (water features are not labelled).

Details below:

1. Need to Come back to the Public for further Public Consultation: The Halifax Common was granted to the inhabitants of the Town of Halifax as Common forever by King George III in 1763 and it is Canadas largest and oldest Common. The Halifax Charter informs us that the city is to establish a consultative process to ensure the right of the public…to participate in the formulation of planning strategies but there has been no communication by staff with the public about the plan since 2019. 
Between 2017 and 2019 three public meetings, an online survey, and several smaller focus meetings led to a 12-page preliminary plan with conceptual approaches for the future of the Halifax Common. These approaches were shown on the “I’m on the Common” HRM website, but there were no updates or expansions of these approaches until the release of the almost 500-page “Final” Master Plan to Council for approval in November 2021.

This failure to present a draft of the Plan to the public for review is shortsighted and wrong; the document must return to further public consultation prior to being considered for approval by Council. Citizens’ rights to fully vet the document that will shape their Halifax Common for decades to come must be respected with due public, open and transparent process.
2. Need for the Master Plan to Better Reflect Public Input: The results of the prior public consultation as stated in the “Public Consultation” section of the Plan (Section 2.4) are not sufficiently addressed in the “Policy Directions” and “Actions” sections of the Plan, among these, but not limited to, are the following:

A “dominant… desire for more passive recreation areas.” (p. 2-31)

– A desire “…for spaces and activities that will serve a wider range of interests.” (p. 2-31)

– “A desire to maintain and enhance green open space… minimizing built infrastructure…. (p. 2-31)

– A desire for “… a mix of infrastructure to support both structured and unstructured forms of leisure, with a slight preference for unstructured activities.” (p. 2-35)

– A concern for vagueness in the Plan’s vision, goals, and guiding principles (p. 2-30)

3. Need to Address Major Imminent Disruptors to the Common: In view of public concern three current pressing major issues on the Common are ignored – a. the current and ongoing expansion of the Infirmary and parking garages onto previously open Common space; b. a contemplated expansion of the current “pop-up” soccer stadium into a permanent constructed stadium; and c. the future demolition of the Victoria General Hospital buildings and the reuse of these lands along the the former School for the Blind property on the South Common. These can’t be ignored.

4. Need to Protect, Reclaim and Expand the Halifax Common: There is no attempt to identify approaches for the protection and reclamation of the Halifax Common, as stated in reference the public in the Plan as “… a continued desire to preserve and reclaim land on the Halifax Common, with ‘public open space ranking as a highly valued use.” (p. 2-34) and as committed to in the 1994 Halifax Common Plan. Without having these objectives as part of the plan the Common remains subject to the vagaries of municipal and provincial governments’ whim and pressures of the desire and dictates of moments in time. This continues the on-going problem of the diminishment of the Common.
5. Need for Permanent HRM Citizens’ Stewardship Committee: The Halifax Common provides a wealth of activities most with historic roots— gardening, horse riding, cricket, children’s playgrounds, lawn bowling, baseball, swimming or peacefully picnicing. As the Common belongs to the Commoners we believe the long-term welfare of the Common will be best achieved under the stewardship of a permanent HRM committee of stakeholders and citizen advocates. 

FHC’s Executive has many specific areas of concern, too numerous to address in this brief appeal. We believe the only way to fully examine and address these concerns is by returning the Plan to the public for a final public consultation before it is considered by Council. Please support our ask!