The development approval processes used by municipalities in Ontario are fragmented, lengthy, and often downright confusing for many builders who must use the system. However, help could soon be on the way.
A project called One Ontario, the brainchild of AECO Innovation Lab, is taking aim at the problem by engaging stakeholders in a collaborative effort to develop guidelines for a digital platform that could be used by all municipalities across the province for the development approval and e-permitting processes.
Streamlining Processes Through Collaboration
The innovative research and development program is engaging municipal and provincial governments, architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) companies, and the community of software providers and academics to create data exchange guidelines. Once established, they will dramatically transform the approval processes.
The goal is to harmonize and standardize the data and information exchange flow between clients, municipalities, and provincial agencies—making the system easier to navigate and saving time and money.
“To address municipal and industry challenges will require remarkably close co-operation amongst all levels of government, AEC companies, software solution providers, and research talent at our universities,” notes Arash Shahi, CEO at AECO. “Through this innovative AECO program, stakeholders can collaborate to gain greater productivity, increased economic activity, and improved social outcomes—that are much larger than could ever be achieved if we all operated alone.”
Uniform E-Permitting System
The project is gaining momentum. The Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) is on board, as are the Ontario Building Officials Association and the Toronto BIM Community (tBIMc). More organizations wish to be part of the venture and are expected to sign on soon.
“Development of a streamlined and uniform e-permitting system to be used by planning and building departments in all municipalities across the province would result in faster building approvals and a more efficient system that would increase the supply of housing across the province,” says RESCON president Richard Lyall, who is on AECO’s board of experts. “A common digital system that is harmonized would also allow external agencies to be linked with approval agencies, thereby improving the workflow.”
As part of the new venture, One Ontario will set the stage for a uniform e-permitting framework. It could then be used for development approvals by municipal planning and building departments across the province. The initiative is expected to speed up the permitting process, making it more efficient and easier for contractors to submit applications and build much-needed housing. The end result will be a blueprint and roadmap for Ontario municipalities and stakeholders to follow.
Permitting Systems Vary Greatly
The present framework is fragmented across 444 municipalities, and standards can vary from place to place. It can be frustrating for builders working across different municipalities because it takes a lot of time to prepare and submit permit applications that are subject to different rules and systems. At the moment, there are no common standards to govern the flow of information and data transfer among stakeholders. Because of that, permitting systems can vary significantly between jurisdictions, causing myriad issues.
The goal of the One Ontario initiative is to change that. By having a common, streamlined digital framework in place across municipalities, the cost of customizing applications to different municipalities will be reduced. Since the framework will be the same, developers will know what to expect.
More Homes Could Be Built
A report released recently by RESCON bolsters the case for adopting a harmonized and digitized e-permitting system. The report found that 33,100 more homes could be built in Ontario above and beyond current baseline trends over the next five years if the approval processes were reduced by six months.
A six-month reduction in the approvals processes could also result in an additional annual contribution of $4.5 billion to Ontario’s economy by 2025 and support 40,500 jobs.
Claudia Cozzitorto, executive director of tBIMc, says the initiative would be of great value to the AEC as it would bring continuity across projects within Ontario. “Without it, there will inevitably be an individualistic approach that will result in more time and money. The collaboration of standardized data is the foundation of which many opportunities can follow.”