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How Planning Works

Ottawa's Official Plan and Master Plans show the way

For a quick introduction to the planning process watch the I Saw the Sign Land Development video.

How policy shapes your community

the planning hierarchy is shown in a graphic format. - from the Ontario Government Planning Act, to the Official Plan, secondary plans and Master Plans and the Zoning By-law through to City Council and/or Committee of Adjustment approvals.

  • Official Plan
  • Transportation Master Plan
  • Infrastructure Master Plan
  • Ottawa Cycling Plan
  • Ottawa Pedestrian Plan

Together, these five plans set the vision for Ottawa's future growth to 2031. They were developed in an integrated way, recognizing that they all complement each other and work together to create a vibrant, more liveable Ottawa.

The Official Plan provides a vision of the growth of the city and a policy framework to guide its physical development to the year 2031. It sets out how and where the City will focus residential, commercial and employment growth. It is a legal document that addresses matters of provincial interest defined by the Provincial Policy Statement under the Ontario Planning Act. It is also the basis for municipal activities such as:

  • Planning and approval of public works (such as roads and parks)
  • Comprehensive zoning by-law (implements many of the policies of the City’s Official Plan)
  • Creation of community design plans for areas within the City of Ottawa
  • Review and approval of development applications (activities that result in a change of land use or the construction or addition to a building(s) or to the creation of a parcel of land)

Transportation Master Plan

The Transportation Master Plan (TMP) identifies the transportation facilities, services and policies that the City of Ottawa will implement to serve a projected population of 1.14 million people by 2031. It sets direction for the City's day-to-day transportation programs and provides a basis for budget planning that is consistent with the growth management policies of the City's Official Plan.

Infrastructure Master Plan

The Infrastructure Master Plan (IMP) plans for the efficient management, responsible operation and targeted growth of water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.  It supports the Official Plan by ensuring there is enough infrastructure capacity in the right areas of the municipality at appropriate service levels and at the right time to accommodate development and redevelopment to 2031.

Ottawa Cycling Plan

The 2013 Ottawa Cycling Plan (OCP2013) is a long-term strategy to strengthen and support cycling in the city. It provides an overarching vision for cycling in Ottawa, sets key objectives, identifies a comprehensive cycling network and supportive operational activities and recommends policies to guide cycling facility planning, design, implementation and maintenance.

Ottawa Pedestrian Plan

The 2013 Ottawa Pedestrian Plan (OPP 2013) has been developed to recognize the crucial role that walking plays in creating an attractive, accessible, liveable, safe and healthy city. It provides detailed direction on how, within an affordability framework, the City can become more pedestrian-friendly through proposed enhancements to the pedestrian network, planning and design, safety and promotion, and maintenance and rehabilitation.

Reaching into every neighbourhood

These plans have a direct impact on your city, your neighbourhood and your family:

  • How the city is developed
  • Where employment areas can be built
  • What the roads and sidewalks are like
  • What transit is available
  • Housing options
  • Greenspace
  • Water and sewer installations

These are issues that reach every resident in the city – get involved!  Take a look at what’s happening in your neighbourhood, discover how planning works, review how Ottawa is meeting the challenges of growth, attend a public meeting or just ask a question.  

Planning branches

Community Planning

The Community Planning unit is tasked with the big-picture planning for our city and the more detailed neighbourhood plans that guide the evolution of the areas where most change is anticipated. The unit prepares the City’s Official Plan, the Community Design Plans and Secondary Plans for intensification target areas, and Transit-Oriented Development Plans at key locations along the rapid transit network.

Development Review

The Development Planning staff provides professional planning services with respect to current land use issues and undertakes the review and processing of a variety of development applications, Official Plan, Zoning, Subdivision, Condominium, Part Lot Control and Site Plans submitted to the municipality. Development Planning staff are available to provide consultative assistance to the public and the development industry on planning-related issues, processing of development applications and the planning legislative process.

Heritage Program

Heritage planning is the preservation, conservation, rehabilitation, restoration and management of heritage resources. Cultural heritage resources can include sites, structures, buildings, and landscapes of historic, architectural or contextual value. Heritage planners work to manage change throughout the city to ensure that cultural heritage resources are retained, protected and integrated into new developments.

The City of Ottawa conserves significant cultural heritage resources to celebrate, revitalize, stabilize and enhance the community as well as to contribute to its physical, social, cultural and economic development. The City has over 300 individually designated buildings and 18 heritage conservation districts.

The Heritage Services Section is responsible for researching and evaluating properties and areas for designation, assisting property owners with restoration projects, evaluating applications for alterations and demolition under the Ontario Heritage Act. The Section provides expert advice to the Built Heritage Sub-Committee, Planning Committee, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and City Council on built heritage matters.

The Heritage Services Section maintains the City's Heritage Register which includes designated properties and properties listed under Section 27 of the Ontario Heritage Act. The City also maintains a Heritage Reference List which lists over 10,000 properties of heritage interest in Ottawa.

Infrastructure Policy Planning

The Infrastructure Policy Unit is responsible for the development of the City’s Infrastructure Master Plan and managing the implementation of the projects, policies, and actions described in the plan including:

  • Major growth-related water distribution and sewage collection infrastructure
  • Stormwater management strategies and retrofit infrastructure
  • Rural services and groundwater management strategies

The unit’s scope also includes major water and sewer projects that are primarily intended as level of service upgrades, but also meet projected growth demands as a secondary objective.  The Infrastructure Policy Unit also manages the floodplain mapping program, playing a leading role in establishing methodologies, priorities and evaluating risks to the public, in cooperation with the Conservation Authorities

Linkages to major infrastructure planning include:

  • Reviewing Master Servicing Studies that support Community Design Plans and Transit Oriented Development Plans to ensure compatibility and compliance with the City’s major infrastructure plans and level of service objectives 
  • Reviewing all water, sewage and stormwater engineering submissions associated with subdivision applications and many site plans for development outside the Greenbelt 
  • Developing and managing environmental data needed to support subwatershed, development and municipal project planning

Natural Environment Plans and Programs

The Land Use and Natural Systems (LUNS) Unit develops and implements policies and guidelines to sustain the natural environment for current and future generations. Projects include official plan policies and guidelines, master plans and studies, development review and engaging with stakeholders including Councillors, government agencies, community groups, residents and the development industry.  

In our city we enjoy many natural areas, woodlands, rivers and creeks that contribute in large measure to a high quality of life. The network of greenspace supports healthy watercourses, protects biodiversity, improves air quality and helps combat climate change.

As our city grows and changes, our objective is to support a planning process that respects natural processes and integrates environmental considerations into decision making and design.

Program Areas include:
Increasing and Enhancing Forest Cover

Develop an Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) to provide a comprehensive and strategic approach to protecting, maintaining and enhancing the urban forest.

Acquiring and Protecting Natural Areas

Make recommendations to Council regarding the acquisition of natural areas.

Maintain Biodiversity

Developed the Wildlife Strategy and the revision of the wildlife construction protocol to reflect the current City of Ottawa Official Plan and by-laws, and provide more guidance for avoiding wildlife issues.


The Land Use and Natural Systems Unit works with stakeholders and the development industry to create subwatershed plans or environmental management plans priors to consideration of new development or community design plans.

Development Review

As part of the development review process, at the pre-consultation stage, environmental planners identify what natural heritage components are present , what studies need to be prepared and provide advice.

Transportation Planning

The Transportation Planning Branch is responsible for developing strategic transportation plans for pedestrians, cyclists, transit and motor vehicles. 

Strategic Transportation Planning
  • Transportation Master Plan
    • The Transportation Master Plan (TMP) identifies the transportation facilities, services and policies that the City of Ottawa will implement to serve a projected population of 1.14 million people by 2031. It sets direction for the City's day-to-day transportation programs and provides a basis for budget planning that is consistent with the growth management policies of the City's Official Plan.
    • The Ottawa Cycling Plan (OCP) is a long-term strategy to strengthen and support cycling in the city.
    • Ottawa Pedestrian Plan (OPP ) is a strategy to reinforce walking needs through proposed enhancements to the pedestrian network, planning and design, and maintenance and rehabilitation.
    • Identification of future transportation infrastructure requirements and their capital costs (all modes)
    • Monitoring implementation progress of strategic plans
    • Identifies land and corridor requirements for transportation facilities
  • Transportation Demand Management
    • Data collection and data analysis (i.e. Origin-Destination Surveys)
    • Transportation demand modelling and forecasting
    • Development and monitoring of transportation policies (i.e. modal share targets)
    • Plans and coordinates the implementation of pedestrian and cycling facilities and the delivery of the Transportation Demand Management program.
  • Environmental Assessments
    • The Branch undertakes environmental assessments to ensure proposed transportation projects are environmentally responsible and have regard for social, economic and cultural impacts.
    • Undertakes functional design and environmental assessments for transportation facilities to service growth (i.e. rapid transit, arterial roads)
  • Area Traffic Management
    • The Branch also undertakes area traffic management studies and implements the recommendations to ensure that the impact of motorized vehicles on neighbourhoods is minimized and to improve safety and quality of life for all street users. 

Urban Design

The Urban Design unit develops policy and guidelines for urban design in Ottawa.  They also support the Urban Design Review Panel who provide an objective peer review of both capital and private sector development projects throughout the City’s Design Priority Areas.