The World Forum - June 22nd, 2024

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The madness of the ‘15-minute city’


Most people will know Oxford as Britain’s oldest seat of learning – but, according to The Sunday Times, it is better ‘known to its residents for its gridlocked traffic’. In past decades, town planners might have looked at this problem of high levels of congestion and drawn up plans for new and wider roads. But today planners are gripped by an anti-car ideology. Their focus is less on helping people get around than in reducing our use of cars by any means necessary.

To this end, Oxfordshire County Council, which is run by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, wants to divide the city of Oxford into six ‘15 minute’ districts. In these districts, it is said, most household essentials will be accessible by a quarter-of-an-hour walk or bike ride, and so residents will have no need for a car.

On the surface, these 15-minute neigbourhoods might sound pleasant and convenient. But there is a coercive edge. The council plans to cut car use and traffic congestion by placing strict rules on car journeys. Under the new proposals, if any of Oxford’s 150,000 residents drives outside of their designated district more than 100 days a year, he or she could be fined £70.

Do not leave your allotted zone, at least most of the time – that is the policy. Or it could soon be after Oxfordshire County Council decides on the matter on 29 November. Although there is a public consultation that is still ongoing, the council is likely to overrule any objections from residents. Labour councillor Duncan Enright, cabinet member for travel and development strategy, has already declared that the policy is ‘going to happen, definitely’.

Run by a Labour administration, Oxford City Council takes a similar line. Its Local Plan 2040 ‘places a strong emphasis upon the concept of the 15-minute city’. Foremost in its ‘vision and strategy’ is not residents, but the environment. Oxford, we learn, ‘is a human-scale city’. ‘[It] has the potential to enable residents to live in a healthy and sustainable way, for example because of the possibility of travelling by active modes, such as by bike and on foot, which is why it is such a sustainable location for development, including jobs and housing… The environment will be central to everything we do.’ Clearly, Oxford City Council sees the 15-minute-district concept as the key to the city’s flourishing, not just to lowering emissions of CO2 and particulates.