What is a 15-minute city and why is the idea so controversial?

ITV News Digital Video Producer George Hancorn visited the town of Thetford where proposals for a 20-minute neighbourhood have been met with resistance

Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Connor Parker

The idea is simple: Plan your city around making sure all necessary amenities are within a 15-minute walk - but some see it as a plot to stop people from leaving their neighbourhood and remove their rights.

The "15-minute cities" concept has been gathering more and more backers recently as local governments try and find ways to cut down on carbon emissions and traffic.

But some right-wing politicians and a handful of conspiracy theorists have condemned the idea as a "socialist concept," so what is going on?

What is a 15-minute city?

The idea is that everything a person needs should be within a 15-minute walk or cycle from any point in the city.

This includes work, shopping, education, healthcare, leisure and any other amenities a person may need in their regular life.

The idea has been promoted by leading academics and urban planners in recent years who promote a world where walking would once again become our most common mode of transport.

ITV News' George Hancorn explains what a 15-minute city is, and why some people aren't happy about them

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, promised to implement a 15-minute city scheme in the French capital during her re-election campaign.

She said she wants to fill the city with self-sufficient communities that have less stress and pollution.

The dual impact of Covid and the urgent need to meet net-zero targets led to a surge in interest in the concept by local governments.

Councils expanded cycle lanes during lockdown. Credit: PA

Is it being tried out in the UK?

Several local governments including Bristol, Birmingham Canterbury, Ipswich and Sheffield have said they hope to implement a 15-minute city plan.

Oxford has said it plans to be a fully functioning 15-minute city by 2040.

Most of the councils expressing interest in the idea are run by Labour, which has led to opposition by local right-wing politicians.

What is the controversy?

Many local governments have signed up to the idea recently, but transforming their current locality into a 15-minute city is proving difficult.

They often come with restrictions to where cars can go or the introduction of Ultra Low Emission Zones.

Some local councils used lockdown, when the roads were far quieter than usual, to expand cycle lanes, pedestrianise roads, or direct traffic away from side roads with new bollards.

On February 19, thousands of people joined a protest in Oxford against a plan to introduce Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in the city, which was part of the local government's wider 15-minute city scheme.

Protesters gather in Broad Street, Oxford.

Those against the plans said they are an infringement of residents' rights and threaten the freedom of motorists, as well as affecting local businesses.There have also been several incidents of new bollards or planters aimed at redirecting traffic being destroyed or vandalised.

Several of the proposed policies for Oxford fuelled conspiracy theories that the government wanted to confine people to their neighbourhoods.

This was fiercely denied as "misinformation" by the city and county councils.

But beyond disagreements over local council policies, some believe the 15-minute city idea has sinister implications.

A bollard, burnt to the ground Oxford last year.

On February 9 Conservative MP for Don Valley Nick Fletcher gave a speech to the Commons imploring the speaker to table a debate on 15-minute cities, which he labelled a "socialist concept."

In a Twitter thread, Mr Fletcher said: "Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) in their present format do untold economic damage to any city.

"However, the second step after ULEZ is this so-called 15-minute cities or 20-minute neighbourhoods."

"These will take away your personal freedoms as well."

The 15-minute city has also been fiercely criticised on GB News, with presenter Mark Dolan calling the idea "dystopian."

He said: "Creepy local authority bureaucrats would like to see your entire existence boiled down to the duration of a quarter of an hour."

He was critical of plans by some councils to heavily restrict traffic on popular roads by employing cameras to monitor license plates and giving cars a set number of days a year they could drive on the road.

Mr Dolan said this would be "a surveillance culture that would make Pyongyang envious."Nigel Farage even got involved when he tweeted an article by the Daily Mail which described plans by Canterbury Council to stop cars travelling between neighbourhoods saying "the climate change lockdowns are coming."

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