Oxford traffic scheme won’t ‘confine’ residents to specific neighbourhoods

21 December 2022
What was claimed

Oxford is to trial a “climate lockdown” which will confine residents to their local neighbourhood and require them to ask permission to leave.

Our verdict

The traffic scheme being trialled will restrict when many drivers including local residents can use six major roads across the city. But the scheme won’t block residents from travelling outside their local neighbourhoods or place any restrictions on where they can go via other forms of transport.

Plans to trial a new scheme aiming to reduce traffic in Oxford have been described as a “climate lockdown” on social media, with some misleadingly claiming that it will restrict local residents’ freedom of movement.

One post shared to Facebook includes a screenshot of a blog post claiming residents will be “confined to their local neighbourhood and have to ask permission to leave”.

The plans actually involve installing traffic cameras—known as “traffic filters”—on certain roads around the city, with drivers issued with fines if they pass through the filters at certain times without an exemption or permit.

The plans have proved controversial, with thousands of local residents saying they oppose the scheme and criticism from some local businesses.  

However, contrary to what some have claimed on social media, the scheme will not block residents from travelling outside of their local neighbourhoods or place any restrictions on where they can go other than by car.

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What is the trial?

According to Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council, the trial is set to start in 2024, and involves traffic filters on six roads.

In a joint statement issued on 6 December in response to “misinformation” about the trial, the councils said: “The traffic filters work in exactly the same way as the existing traffic cameras in High Street, and are widely used in cities across the UK to manage congestion and support public transport.

“Residents will still be able to drive to every part of the city at any time—but in the future, during certain times of the day, you may need to take a different route (eg, using the ring road) if you want to travel by car.”

The trial will not involve any form of physical barriers on roads, and will instead be policed by cameras and automatic number plate recognition. Drivers who do not have a permit or exemption and who pass through the filters during restricted times will be issued with fines through the post.

Residents won’t be ‘confined’ to specific areas

It’s not accurate to claim that the plans will “lock residents into one of six zones to ‘save the planet’ from global warming”, as the Facebook post does. While the scheme will restrict where residents can drive at certain times, it won’t have any other impact on their freedom of movement, as for example the Covid-19 lockdowns did.

Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council say that the aim of the scheme is to “to reduce traffic levels and congestion, make the buses faster and more reliable, and make cycling and walking safer and more pleasant”.

Residents will still be able to travel to any part of the city, and some people (for example, blue badge holders, carers and emergency service workers) will be exempt from the restrictions altogether.

Some posts have also claimed that residents will require “permission” to leave specific areas. This could refer to the trial’s use of “permits” for local residents in Oxford and surrounding villages, enabling them to drive through the filters on up to 100 days a year.

It’s also been claimed that the scheme is part of a “secretly decided” plan to “divide-up the city of Oxford into six ‘15 minute’ districts”, and that the traffic scheme is the “latest stage” in this plan.

The “15-minute neighbourhoods” plan is a genuine proposal by Oxford City Council, which “aims to ensure that every resident has all the essentials (shops, healthcare, parks) within a 15-minute walk of their home.”

However neither the traffic scheme nor the 15-minute neighbourhoods proposal will require residents to seek specific permission from local authorities any time they wish to travel outside their neighbourhood, and unless residents are going by car, the schemes won’t have any impact on their ability to travel.

Full Fact has contacted Oxfordshire County Council for comment and will update this piece if it responds.

Image courtesy of Matt Boitor

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