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Average Vancouver development approval timeline now 15.2 months: CHBA

Vancouver ranks in the middle of the municipality pack on approval times, processes and costs
Photo credit: Dan Toulgoet

Vancouver ranks 12th out of 21 municipalities across Canada for construction approvals and processing, according to a recent report from the Canadian Home Builders' Association (CHBA).

The 2022 Municipal Benchmarking Report compared 21 municipalities in three key areas: Municipal planning approval processes, municipal charges imposed on new development and approval timelines. Assigned to each municipality is a score out of 100 based on how each municipality performs in comparison to the others.

Overall, Vancouver scored 76 per cent. By comparison, Edmonton – the top city on the list – scored 91 per cent.

Vancouver’s average approval timeline for developments is 15.2 months, according to the CHBA. Compared to CHBA’s 2020 report, this wait has increased by roughly two months, said Ron Rapp, CEO of Homebuilders Association Vancouver.

The data for the report was collected in the first quarter of last year, Rapp said. He added that in the intervening nine months, the City of Vancouver has been able to make further progress and is testing new ways of streamlining the approval process. 

Historically, it is typical to see B.C. municipalities in the middle or on the lower end of rankings when comparing the key categories of the report, said Rapp. For example, Surrey and Burnaby ranked 13th and 17th on the 2022 list, respectively.

“There's been some improvement, in particular with Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, in terms of their approval timelines and such. But it is still not enough to move them towards the top of that ranking,” he said. “We have been in this pattern before, where we're sort of in the middle of the pack.”

Rapp noted that many of the municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area are ranked the lowest on the list when compared to the rest of Canada.

Slower approval timelines can result an increased costs on a project, Rapp said. He added that these delays are more acutely felt in the current market due to increasing borrowing costs.

“The longer it takes to get something through the pipeline, the longer you're going to be incurring costs in terms of carrying those land costs and development costs on the way through,” he said.

Cities that scored well in the report pair zoning reforms with off-the-shelf pre-approved designs, according to the CHBA. Rapp said that, as Vancouver continues to move forward with the Broadway Plan and other initiatives to revamp neighbourhoods, its current process of spot applications and spot rezoning will slow progress down.

When it comes to the charges municipalities place on development, the report noted that Vancouver could improve its relatively high community amenity costs. Community amenity contributions and development cost charges are the two main drivers of high municipal charges, according to Rapp.

“As noted in this study, a low-rise or a single-family home is $62,000 per unit, and a high rise is [$125,542 per unit]. When you start dividing that into the square footage, it's pretty significant,” he said.

For Vancouver, it’s not all bad. The report pointed to planning features and detailed information throughout the approval process as aspects that are working well. The city also scored top marks when it came to the availability of key planning documents, and on accountability.

The report noted that Vancouver is one of the few municipalities in Canada to accept public comments through the city’s development application tracker.