Government unable to give evidence for Mark Harper’s ’15-minute cities’ claims

Tories Plan for Drivers policy claims local councils are using traffic calming measures to ‘police people’s lives’

The government has been unable to provide any evidence to support a number of claims in the Tory’s Plan for Drivers policy around ’15-minute cities’, attacks on traffic calming measures and 20mph speed limits.

In a bid to discredit Lib Dem and Labour run councils and roll-out a driver-focused transport scheme, Tory ministers have attacked traffic calming measures and suggested they are being used to ‘police people’s lives’ whilst conflating controversial traffic restrictions with the ’15-minute cities’ conspiracy.

However, the government has been found unable to come up with any evidence to back these claims up, following a request by openDemocracy.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper was called out for spreading the ‘15-minute cities’ conspiracy claim at the Conservative Party conference, when he suggested local councils were involved in a ‘sinister’ ‘misuse of so-called 15-minute cities’, to ‘police’ how often people could go to the shops.

Fact checkers swiftly debunked the claims and Full Fact found there was ‘no evidence’ of councils planning to restrict when residents go to the shop.

However last month the Conservatives launched their Plan for Drivers policy paper aiming to win the vote of motorists. In the document, the 15-minute cities claim is repeated, stating, ‘we will explore options to stop local councils using so-called “15-minute cities”, such as in Oxford, to police people’s lives’.

The paper also states, ‘we will make it clear that 20mph speed limits in England must be used appropriately where people want them – not as unwarranted blanket measures’.

However, openDemocracy has found that the Department for Transport (DfT) was unable to provide any evidence to support these claims when asked.  

In response to the request for evidence, the government could only cite “Oxford as an example of plans to further restrict vehicle movements”.

Oxford County Council and Oxford City council have rejected the claims, saying their traffic filtering schemes are to move vehicles off congested routes at peak times.

The councils said the government claim had conflated two different plans, one to introduce the traffic filtering scheme and the other to ensure more people are able to access in walking distance essential services.

On the claim that “unwarranted blanket measures” of 20mph speed limits were being used, the DfT was unable to provide any details. Instead admitting that the information on this was “not held by the department centrally”.

The vision for a 15-minute city is that everyone living within the area can access all services and amenities within a 15-minute walk or bike ride, with the aim to provide a better quality of life. It is not a new concept and has been used in Portland, Oregon and Barcelona.

A number of local councils in the UK have introduced the concept of 15 or 20 minute cities in recent years, through plans and proposals that increase residents access to vital amenities.  

(Image credit: International Transport Forum / Creative Commons)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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