Viral 15 minute neighbourhoods leaflet is misleading

16 August 2023
What was claimed

15 minute neighbourhoods involve staying within 15 minutes of your home and the restriction of free movement and being monitored by surveillance cameras. They are being trialled in several places in the UK.

Our verdict

15 minute cities are an urban planning concept designed to give people access to key services within a 15 minute walk or cycle. It does not limit free movement. This has been conflated with a trial traffic scheme in Oxford that will limit how often people can drive down several key roads using cameras and fines, which has proved controversial.

An image of a leaflet about “15 minute neighbourhoods” has been shared on Facebook over 2,800 times.

The leaflet says: “Do you want to stay within 15 minutes of home? Forever?” and then lists what it appears to claim are features of 15 minute neighbourhoods, including “restriction of free movement”. A footer on the leaflet also warns: “15 min neighbourhoods = lockdown forever”. 

Fifteen minute neighbourhoods, or cities, are an urban planning concept with the aim of creating an area where residents can reach basic essentials, like shops, healthcare and parks, within 15 minutes on foot or by bike. 

But stopping people from leaving that area by fining them, as the post seems to imply, isn’t part of the concept and there are no plans for such neighbourhoods in the UK to include restrictions like this.

We’ve written a lot about 15 minute cities before. False claims about limits to people’s personal freedom is likely to cause unnecessary worry, and may harm public debate about real local traffic proposals if people are not well informed.

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Oxford, Thetford and Ipswich

The post says: “Oxford to be trialled in 2024”, that “Thetford [is to be] considered as [a] trial town” and Ipswich is “to be one of the UK’s first 15 min towns”.

While 15 or 20 minute neighbourhoods have been proposed or completed in all three of these places, these plans don’t involve restricting people’s movement.

Oxford will trial a new traffic scheme, expected to start in 2024, where drivers will be fined if they pass through certain roads at certain times without an exemption or a permit, enforced by automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) traffic cameras. According to Oxfordshire County Council, the trial will last for a minimum of six months before a decision is made about whether to make it permanent.

These plans have proved controversial, with thousands of local residents saying they opposed the scheme, criticism from some local businesses and large protests

But often that trial has been conflated with a 15 minute neighbourhood proposal in the Oxford City Council’s Local Plan 2040 in social media posts we have checked previously. The 15 minute city proposal would not limit where residents can drive, and they won’t be stopped from leaving a 15 minute ‘zone’.

They wouldn’t be stopped from leaving their local area or going to another one by the traffic trial scheme either. According to a press release from Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council, “Under the traffic filters, residents will still be able to drive to every part of the city at any time – but in the future, at the times when the filters are operating, you may need to take a different route (e.g. using the ring road) if you want to travel by car.”

There are no plans for restricting movement in 15 or 20 minute neighbourhoods in Thetford, Norfolk, either. The Eastern Daily Press reported earlier this year that the Norfolk County Council had backed a motion to explore the idea of 20 minute neighbourhoods to ensure residents had access to key services within a 20 minute journey without needing a car. 

At a subsequent meeting in Thetford, the county council's head of paid service said there was “categorically” no plan to restrict movement. The county council’s acting leader has said there were no plans for residents “to be locked up in their homes or neighbourhoods” and people would be able to choose how to travel.

Ipswich has a “connected town area” that the council says is “inspired by the  internationally-recognised ‘15-minute city’ concept, which looks to reshape places so that everything needed in modern life is available within a 15-minute walking distance”. There is no proposal to restrict people’s movement in this area.

Image courtesy of Laura

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