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The 15 Minute City 'Conspiracy' That Shifted Transport Policy

The 15 Minute City “Conspiracy” That Shifted Transport Policy
01 February 2024

Confusion and misinformation about the concept of 15 minute cities were partly responsible for a change in England’s transport policy.


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A report in The Guardian newspaper has revealed that policy papers from the Department for Transport said that curbs on walking and cycling schemes were “in response to concerns about 15-minute cities.” 

A 15 minute city concept is an urban planning tool where cities are designed so most human needs can be met within a 15 minute walk or cycle. Such schemes sometimes include plans for better cycling and walking infrastructure, and percentage targets for residents to have their basic daily “non-work” needs met close by.

However, conspiracy theories regarding the concept have characterised it as an attempt to assault personal freedoms. This seems to have arisen in part as a consequence of COVID-19 lockdowns, with certain groups predicting so-called “climate lockdowns” where car use might be restricted. 

This misinformation has led to 15 minute city concepts being conflated with low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), which appears to have partly informed the government’s “plan for drivers” scheme, announced in September 2023. 

The press release announced that the government would end the “blanket imposition of anti-driver policies” by reviewing 20mph speed limits in England and amending guidance on low traffic neighbourhoods.

This misunderstanding was exacerbated at the Conservative Party Conference 2023, where Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “I’m calling time on the misuse of so-called 15 minute cities.

“There’s nothing wrong with making sure people can walk or cycle to the shops or school, that’s traditional town planning.

“But what is different, what is sinister and what we shouldn’t tolerate is the idea that local councils can decide how often you go to the shops, and that they ration who uses the road and when, and they police it all with CCTV.”


"Associating the 15-minute city again with so-called liberty-restricting measures is tantamount to aligning with the most radical and anti-democratic elements of this movement.”

–Carlos Moreno


The comments were met with confusion, with urban planner and driving force behind Paris’s 15 minute city plan Carlos Moreno called it “baffling”. He took to X (formerly Twitter) to publish a statement:

"Personally, as the initiator of the 15-minute city concept, which is widely recognised internationally, I feel compelled to express my concerns”

“Last spring, my family and I faced harassment, including death threats, from conspiracy theorists fueled by false information, promptly debunked by reputable media outlets.”

"Associating the 15-minute city again with so-called liberty-restricting measures is tantamount to aligning with the most radical and anti-democratic elements of this movement.”


Transport Action Network Campaign


The documents were uncovered as part of a Transport Action Network campaign to challenge the department’s decision to cut two-thirds of England’s dedicated funding for walking and cycling in March 2023. The group believes that the decision to slash funding ignores climate, air quality and equalities duties:

“There is a strong link between active travel rates, health and productivity across the UK but these cuts will hurt smaller cities, towns and left behind places the most.

“Disabled people are less likely to drive than non-disabled people but face decades of discrimination entrenched in the built environment. Inaccessible barriers, narrow paths, steps with no ramps, muddy surfaces and hostile road conditions mean they can become trapped, especially in the many areas where bus services have been cut.”

The group also argues that the cuts unlawfully bypass a 2015 law which creates a duty on the government to publish a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS).

In October 2023, a High Court judge granted permission for the Transport Action Network to judicially review the decision. 

Picture: a photograph of two people walking towards each other in an outdoor walkway. The image is dark so their features are obscured slightly. Image Credit: Unsplash

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 01 February 2024


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