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What is going to happen with the Pickering airport lands?

July 10, 2011

The question has been on the minds of residents in Stouffville and the surrounding areas for quite some time, so much so that it was a huge campaign issue during the federal election that took place in May. And in light of a recent Transport Canada report, it seems the Pickering airport lands melee will only escalate.

The report, released on Monday, concluded that the Greater Golden Horseshoe will require an airport as early as 2027 due to increasing passenger, cargo and recreational traffic needs. Furthermore, the report asserted that the Pickering Lands "would be a prime location."

Generally, the idea of an airport coming to the area has been fairly unpopular. People are concerned about the affect it would have on the land, farming, plans for a national park, and on the region in general.
 
But would an airport in the region be an inherently negative development? To get a better understanding of what's happening with the Pickering airport lands, StouffvilleConnects caught up with Paul Calandra, MP of Oak Ridges-Markham.
 
What's the status of the land?

Though discussion of land use in the area is still in its very early stages, Calandra believes that evidence dictates that an airport will eventually be necessary.

"The report indicates that by 2027 there will be a need for some type of airport out this way. We already know that with Buttonville closing," he says. Calandra also pointed out that land use plans are still far from being decided upon.

"We're not talking about building an airport tomorrow. But what we are saying is that a report's been issued, so let's talk about how we can bring jobs into the economy, can we tie in the creation of a rouge park into this, and consult with people in the area and bring a plan out to finally do something with these lands."

Another thing to consider is that any airport built would be a general aviation airport, not a giant commercial airport. Calandra noted that the government is opposed to any proposal that doesn't have a proper business case model to it.

"If you're going to try and convince me that you need to put another Pearson airport there, it's a non-starter for me. It's not needed," he says.

"There's no business case that would support a Pearson airport out this way. But is there a business case for a general aviation airport? The report shows us there is."

How will an airport affect other land use plans?

According to Calandra, implementation of an airport would not affect the proposal to create a national park in the Rouge Valley or other key land developments.

"The platform for any future airport is very much limited by what will be a rouge national park, what will be the Seton development, and what will be hopefully some other industrial and commercial uses of the land as well," he says.

He also notes that the area for the airport will likely not be in York Region. "What we have always said is the lands on this side of the York-Durham border are already surplus to any airport needs. There's the green space preserve for the Oak-Ridges moraine, then on the York Region side these are all surplus lands so it has no impact on that at all."

Thus far, discussions have leaned towards an airport being further east of Stouffville, on the Durham side of the York-Durham border.

"Around Brougham and that area is where we are talking about putting an airport," says Calandra. "But again, everything is still very preliminary."

Taking care of our farmers

Consistent with his campaign position, Calandra was sure to point out that talks about the Pickering airport lands would take the well-being of farmers into consideration.

"I made it a very key part of my re-election campaign in this riding: when it comes to the farmers on my side of the border...I want my farmers to continue to be able to farm on class-one farm land," says Calandra.

"They should be able to farm on class one farm lands and a national park [or other land uses] should not get in the way of them doing that," he adds.

He made a point of reiterating that Stouffville farmers, Markham farmers, and anybody who farms in the Oak-Ridges area will continue to be able to farm.

"Huge" tract of land can hold more than airport

According to Calandra, the area of land in question has the size and potential to be used for a wide variety of purposes beyond just housing an airport.

"When you talk about the Pickering airport lands as a whole, they're larger than what the city of Toronto currently sits on... you could put the entire city of Toronto in these lands and still have a little bit of space left over," he says.

"It's not just an airport we're talking about here. You're talking a huge tract of land, bringing in a national park. The airport is just one piece of what could be a huge economic and environmental driver for the entire area."

If the airport is the only focus, says Calandra, than the enormous potential of the lands to be used for other purposes is downplayed or ignored.

"We actually have the opportunity to do something extraordinarily beneficial for this area, and if people just focus exclusively on an airport, I think they're really narrowing something that could be very special for the whole area," he says.

"As a local MP, I would like to see us start talking about what the potential footprint of an airport would be, and the economic uses of the land. What better time to do it then in the context of the whole proposal?"

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