Official community plans are policy documents. They provide a policy context for regulatory bylaws such as zoning and development cost charge bylaws, but do not have regulatory effect themselves. The research, analysis and consultation required to prepare an OCP or OCP amendment are significant, so these bylaws are not meant to be amended frequently; they are supposed to provide a stable framework for land use management decision-making over a significant period of time.
In relation to land use, the Local Government Act requires OCPs to contain policy statements and mapping dealing with future land use. Usually the land use categories that are designated in OCPs are more general than those used in zoning. For example, land might be designated simply for “residential” uses in an OCP, while a related zoning bylaw might break that down into different types or densities of residential development. In this way the plan is meant to provide greater flexibility than the zoning regulations. Flexibility is important because it is the regional district itself that is most affected by the contents of the OCP.
OCPs are also required to identify and document areas that are environmentally sensitive or subject to natural hazards, and may contain policies restricting development in such areas. They must contain information on local road, sewer and water systems including any planned expansions, and present and proposed public facilities such as schools and parks. OCPs must also contain housing policies related to affordable, rental and special needs housing and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets.
The legal effect of an OCP is mainly in regard to the regional district itself: it cannot adopt bylaws or construct works that are inconsistent with the plan. The OCPs effect on private property owners is achieved via bylaws that implement the plan, such as the local zoning bylaw.