March 24, 2021

Urban Containment Boundary


Putting a Boundary on Growth

An Urban Containment Boundary sets aside land to be protected from most forms of development. Usually an UCB will delineate the edge of town and the beginning of rural areas.

Urban Containment Boundaries help local governments meet a number of planning goals that cross-cut with climate action, such as:

  • improving the viability of transit by concentrating development;
  • encouraging mixed-use development closer to homes and jobs, helping cut the number of car trips
  • maximizing the use of existing infrastructure and minimizing new infrastructure costs;
  • revitalizing downtowns and town centres;
  • maintaining a working land base (agricultural, rural, forested, and other resource lands) and the
  • green infrastructure; and
  • protecting the environment.

On top of the climate-friendly results of UCBs, another benefit is in providing a degree of certainty to both developers and residents as to the location of future development. One potential disadvantage to UCBs is that it can contribute to an increase in land prices within the UCB. However, there is no consensus on this as there are many other factors involved in determining land value.

Community Examples

see also the West Coast Environmental Law website for further discussion of UCBs and examples

“2. Maintain the Urban Containment Boundary as the principal tool for growth management in Saanich, and encourage all new development to locate within the Urban Containment Boundary.

3. Do not consider major changes to the Urban Containment Boundary except as the outcome of a comprehensive five year review of the Regional Growth Strategy.

4. Do not adopt any bylaw or resolution providing for a major expansion to the Urban Containment Boundary without first attaining the assent of the electors through a referendum or plebiscite.”

Creating an Urban Containment Boundary

Policies to establish, implement, and review an Urban Containment Boundary must be set out in a Regional Growth Strategy and Official Community Plan. It is important to ensure that Zoning bylaws reflect the desired land use both within and outside the UCB. Local governments can create minimum lot sizes to retain rural character and prevent urbanization outside the UCB and should strategically zone areas inside the UCB to encourage compact and complete development.

Several Regions and Municipalities have created Urban Containment Boundaries as a part of their growth management strategies: Saanich, Kelowna, and Nanaimo are three examples.

It should be noted that an Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), a land use policy designed to protect quality agricultural land, should not be confused with an Urban Containment Boundary. [1]


[1] Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, 2006, Planning for Food Seminar, British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Preservation Program,


  • Land use and Transportation