Loss of industrial land harms environment as well as economy. Dealing with the problem requires governments take a more aggressive role in protecting industrial land.
When factory owners can make more money selling their land for condos than manufacturing goods, they are going to close the factories, as economist Jim Stanford pointed out in a recent column.
The use of industrial lands for residential, retail or offices is also bad for the environment. Greater Vancouver found people commuting to jobs in a suburban town centre were four times more likely to walk or use transit than people commuting to the type office development built when industrial lands are converted to other uses.
Those building homes, stores or offices will always be able to pay more for land than those building factories or warehouses. This means governments must play a role in protecting industrial land, rather than leaving decisions to “the market.”
Cities are recognizing that it's not going to be possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commuting unless new residential, retail and office development takes place in areas that are well served by transit. Forcing factories to relocate to greenfield sites far away from where their employees live is also not good for the environment. But too often provincial planning rules make it possible for property developers to buy cheap industrial land and get planning permission for other types of development.
If we're serious about protecting jobs and the environment, that needs to change. Municipal governments have a role to play, but it's the role of the provincial government that's the key to fixing the problem. Provincial planning rules should require cities to protect industrial land and property developers shouldn't be able to get decisions to protect industrial land overturned.