Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Surrey mayor unveils radical economic development plan

with 7 comments

Vancouver Sun

What Dianne Watts has done is broken ranks. She has declared that Bridgeview and Surrey Central will be areas where major new projects won’t have to pay property taxes for three years. The Sun mostly quotes people who think this is a good idea. Only Derek Corrigan of Burnaby thinks it might not be so smart:

…Surrey might get a temporary advantage, but the move will pit municipalities against one another. He said his city already has some of the lowest development cost charges and has no plans to cut or defer them.

“We’ve been a popular place for development so we’re not in a position where we’re trying to encourage developers in what we see is a race to the bottom. It’s very discouraging,” he said.

Indeed, I could not have put it better myself. I have been in BC since 1994 and one of the first things they told me about when I got here was that municipalities would not try to take an advantage by offering this kind of deal to industry. Industrial development is the only land use that pays more in taxes than it costs in municipal services. Other kinds of development – especially residential – cost more to service than they bring in in new taxes. This kind of “beggar my neighbour” policy has been generally avoided. Because in the long run, no municipality gains from this approach – the developers simply pit the municipalities against each other. Moreover, once this competition starts there is nothing to stop a business packing up and leaving once its tax concessions run out and get them from some other municipality.  And there are plenty of places where that has happened. Mostly to the south of here.

Bridgeview is also the community where houses are being torn down to make way for the South Fraser Perimeter Road. As Bernadette “No Trucking Freeway” Keenan has noticed, this area really does not see any traffic congestion in the afternoon peak – usually the busiest time of day for most roads in the region.

Her comments can be heard at 2 minutes in to this video.

But of course the SFPR is not about traffic – or the needs of the truckers to get to the port – it is about turning residential land into industrial land. Just that zoning change will make money – as it has along the same route through North Delta, where the prize is even bigger since even more money  can be made if the land was formerly protected bog or farmland.

What Mayor Watts is tacitly admitting is that in these tough economic times, even ripping down houses and building a new four lane road is not enough to attract business. The premise of the SFPR is that growth is always good – and that land prices will always rise. But that ceased to be true around the middle of last year in this region – and about 18 months earlier than that in the US. Indeed, it is hard now to find financing for almost any kind of development since the people who used to fund this sort of thing are now bankrupt – or left holding all sorts of unpriceable paper “assets” and are hoping for yet more bailout funds. The first tranche of which has already been squandered by the  bankers on their own bonuses.

For the life of me I cannot understand why the Sun thinks it should be a business booster. There are plenty of people around like Maureen Enser who will do that. Surely the role of a newspaper should be to ask questions and try to look behind the smoke and mirrors? The Sun of course is not really a newspaper at all. You have to look elsewhere for examples of real journalistic standards. This story is, sadly, typical of their uncritical view “what benefits a business must be good for all of us” – which most of us with some experience of the world know is far from true.

“People who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” George Santayana

It is a sad day for Surrey – and the region as a whole – that we all now face yet another first hand learning experience that we could easily have avoided.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 12, 2009 at 9:22 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Thank you for putting into words what I have been thinking and feeling all day.

    A more accurate headline for the Sun story would be “Watts unveils regressive safety net for big box development”


    March 13, 2009 at 12:42 am

  2. Very well articulated as always, Stephen. 28 farms in Delta will be affected by the SFPR as well as the bog, all at a time when the need for a secure local food supply is crucial.


    March 13, 2009 at 8:41 am

  3. Nice quote from the Vancouver Sun, given that Burnaby probably has more transit-unfriendly office/business park development than any other municipality (think Discovery Parks near BCIT, Willingdon & Trans-Canada (Yellow Pages area), Glenlyon Business Park (Marine Way) and the Big Bend area (Marine Way)):

    Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said Surrey might get a temporary advantage, but the move will pit municipalities against one another. He said his city already has some of the lowest development cost charges and has no plans to cut or defer them.

    Remember that Surrey is designated as the region’s second downtown – because it is south of the Fraser River and doesn’t require crossing a bridge to get to it from the growth areas in the Fraser Valley.

    Ron C.

    March 13, 2009 at 11:35 am

  4. mayor watts,
    i live in bridgeview. many of our homes have already been demolished to make way for the sfpr. what, more specifically, plans does mayor watts have for this area. the sfpr will be less than 1 block from our elementary school and 3 other schools in the area. ever hear of the connection between c02 emissions and health issues such as asthma or cancer?
    the health of our children is far more important than a highway for trucks. everyone seems concerned about this except for our greedy politicians. this community lies along the fraser river. no longer will we be able to walk to the river as there will be a highway between us now. the ridiculous thing is the sfpr will run parallel to an existing road that already is being used for truck traffic. what is even more ridiculous, is that there is not even much traffic on this already existing road any time of the day. in other words the sfpr is a waste. i would invite all of our greedy politicians to come and have a look at our community, our river, and the damage already done by the sfpr. mayor watts focus has always been primarily on surrey central. i doubt that she has ever been to our bridgeview neighbourhood. poor planning, greed, destruction, no concern re the health and welfare of oridinary working people, the bottom line is the dollar. makes me sick.


    April 1, 2009 at 12:24 am

  5. “ever hear of the connection between c02 emissions and health issues such as asthma or cancer?”

    No – the link is between particulate emissions (soot) and these diseases. The California Air Resources Board has determined that soot from diesel engines is a human carcinogen. Sverre Vedal showed there is a link between the incidence of asthma in children and wood smoke: the chemical composition of smoke from other carbon fuels is similar.

    Stephen Rees

    April 1, 2009 at 6:43 am

  6. Carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are some of the carbon fuel emissions that have detrimental effects on respiratory systems.


    April 1, 2009 at 7:56 am

  7. thanks for the detailed info on the health dangers.. my comment was meant to be sarcasm but i’m glad people are listening. according to i.c.b.c., asthma is the no. 1 cause for emergency hospital visits by children. the commercial on tv that says ‘gordon campbell eats children’ isn’t that far-fetched. gordo appears to have little concern for the health of our children.


    April 1, 2009 at 2:30 pm

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