15 minute cities do not introduce digital IDs

29 June 2023
What was claimed

15 minute cities mean digital IDs will be introduced. This will involve tracking your spending and movements, which will be limited if you exceed government regulations.

Our verdict

The 15 minute city is an urban planning concept that does not mandate digital IDs. There are no plans to make digital ID mandatory anywhere in the UK. The post actually describes a social credit system and there is no evidence of plans to trial this.

What was claimed

15 minute cities are divided into districts and you will be fined for exceeding your annual 100 day leave quota. It is already being trialled in Oxford.

Our verdict

This appears to be conflating a ‘15-minute neighbourhood’ proposal in Oxford with a traffic scheme due to be trialled there in 2024. The traffic scheme would fine residents for driving on six major roads for more than 100 days a year. They would still be able to travel wherever they want using different roads or alternative modes of transport. This will rely on automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to monitor and enforce the restrictions, not digital ID.

What was claimed

Over 100 local councils have signed up to the ‘15 minute city agenda’.

Our verdict

This seems to be based on a pledge made by over 100 local councils to progress towards Net Zero in the next decade. It does not commit councils to specific policies or measures such as a 15 minute city strategy.

A post on Facebook incorrectly claims that “15 minute cities” will create digital IDs, spell the end of camping holidays and family visits, and mean people’s money, shopping and carbon footprints will be tracked. 

It also claims that Oxford is already trialling a system that will split it into districts and fine those who exceed their “annual 100 day leave quota”. 

Full Fact has seen lots of online misinformation relating to 15 minute cities and Oxford including false claims that a road sign shows it has been divided into districts and its residents will require a permit to leave these districts. 

We’ve also checked other claims about plans to divide Ealing into “zones” and that facial recognition cameras are used by traffic cameras in Leeds and tills at Asda.

It is important to consider whether information like this has been verified by official sources before sharing posts online that may cause unnecessary alarm, uncertainty and anxiety.

Honesty in public debate matters

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15 minute cities do not mean digital ID

The post claims that 15 minute cities mean that “digital ID” will be used to track things like a person’s money, travel, activities and carbon footprints. It says that anyone who exceeds government regulations will be “denied access to everyday activities” such as camping holidays, family visits or beach trips.

But this is not true. The “15 minute city” or neighbourhood is an urban planning concept that aims to create areas where residents can reach basic essentials within 15 minutes, either on foot or by bike. While one paper on the concept suggests that “digital solutions” like bike sharing technology and sensors for cyclist safety could help implement the strategy, it does not mandate for digital IDs.

Usually, a digital ID refers to a way for someone to prove who they are—both in real life and online—without the need for physical documents like a driving licence or passport. They are not mandatory in the UK.

The government is currently developing a “trust framework” to regulate the use of digital IDs across the public and private sectors, ensuring “robust standards” on matters like privacy and security. But it says that this is “not a step towards ID cards”.

Even if someone did choose to have this type of digital ID, it does not work in the way the post has described. The post instead seems to be describing a social credit system and there’s no evidence that anything of this sort is being trialled in the UK. 

We often see online speculation about the introduction of a social credit system similar to the one that was reportedly planned in China, which works like a credit score, whereby actions of citizens, businesses and government entities will be monitored and assessed. The exact details of the scoring system in development in China are not fully known.

As we’ve written before, there’s no evidence that any such system is being planned globally or in specific countries including Canada or Ukraine. It has no connection to the 15 minute cities concept.

15 minute cities do not restrict people to ‘districts’

The post claims that 15 minute cities will involve cities being “split up into ‘districts’ (15 minute zones)” and fining people for exceeding their “annual 100 day leave quota”. It also says that this is already being trialled in Oxford. 

As we’ve written before, it is not true that cities will be split into districts that people can’t leave or that Oxford is already trialling such a system.

Along with many other places, Oxford City Council has proposed a “15-minute neighbourhood” scheme in its Local Plan 2040 . But this seems to have been conflated with a different traffic scheme proposed by Oxfordshire County Council and due to be trialled in the city in 2024

The traffic scheme will restrict when many drivers—including local residents—can use six major roads across the city by installing cameras known as “traffic filters”. These rely on automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to monitor and enforce the restrictions, not digital ID. 

It’s true that local residents will need to apply for permits to allow them to drive on the affected roads for up to 100 days a year without receiving a fine. The plans have proved controversial, receiving criticism from some local businesses and residents

But neither the traffic scheme nor the 15 minute neighbourhood proposal will restrict people to “zones” or limit where someone can go on other roads or via alternative forms of transport.

In a joint statement, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council said: “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.”

On the separate proposal of 15 minute neighbourhoods, the statement said it “aims to ensure that every resident has all the essentials (shops, healthcare, parks) within a 15-minute walk of their home. They aim to support and add services, not restrict them.”

The UK100 pledge does not commit local councils to implement 15 minute neighbourhoods

The poster claims that “over 100 local councils have already signed up for the 15 minute city agenda”.

As we have written before, this may be based on the UK100 organisation, which is a network of more than 100 councils in the UK that have pledged to make substantial progress within the next decade to deliver net zero.

In 2019, the UK Government passed a legally binding requirement for the country to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. 

The UK100 pledge includes commitments to set ambitious net zero targets for greenhouse emissions, report their carbon emissions annually and limit the use of offsetting measures. But it does not commit local councils to adopt specific measures or policies to achieve these targets. 

Some councils that have signed up to the UK100 pledge do appear to be independently considering 15 minute cities or reference similar proposals in their plans, including Sheffield City Council and Newham Council, as well as Oxford City Council.

Image courtesy of Bill Nicholls

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