Mark Harper launches crackdown on ‘sinister’ 15-minute cities

The Cabinet minister announced the Government will review its powers to prevent ‘overzealous use of traffic management measures’.

Neil Lancefield
Monday 02 October 2023 14:47 BST
Councils could be blocked from fining drivers under a crackdown on the ‘misuse of so-called 15-minute cities’, Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said (Danny Lawson/PA)
Councils could be blocked from fining drivers under a crackdown on the ‘misuse of so-called 15-minute cities’, Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said (Danny Lawson/PA)

English councils could be blocked from fining drivers under a crackdown on the “misuse of so-called 15-minute cities”, Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said.

Speaking from the main stage of the Tory party conference, the Cabinet minister announced the Government will review its powers to prevent “overzealous use of traffic management” as part of its Plan for Drivers.

The global concept of 15-minute cities is based on having shops, services and workplaces within a short walk or bicycle ride from people’s homes.

The Government will investigate what options we have in our toolbox to restrict overzealous use of traffic management measures

Transport Secretary Mark Harper

Mr 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.

“So today, I am announcing that the Government will investigate what options we have in our toolbox to restrict overzealous use of traffic management measures including cutting off councils from the DVLA database if they don’t follow the rules.”

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) Plan For Drivers document stated that it would “stop local authorities using so-called 15-minute cities to police people’s lives”.

It added that a consultation would be held on removing local authorities’ access to DVLA data if they sought to “enforce such schemes by camera”.

Some people believe 15-minute cities are a conspiracy led by the World Economic Forum and the United Nations to use surveillance to limit travel.

In September last year Oxford City Council approved the idea of having essential services within a 15-minute walkable distance as part of its 20-year development plan.

It is councils, who know their communities best, that should be trusted to make local transport decisions with their local residents, not Whitehall

Darren Rodwell, Local Government Association

Opponents of the concept linked the policy to proposals for city centre traffic restrictions by the separate Oxfordshire County Council.

The DVLA holds details of the registered keepers of vehicles licensed in the UK.

It discloses this information to private or public sector organisations and individuals providing they can demonstrate a reasonable cause to have it.

Councils use the database to issue fines when their CCTV systems record the number plate of a vehicle whose driver is committing a motoring offence.

Removing the ability of all councils to enforce moving traffic violations would be a backwards step that will risk creating a two-tier transport system between London and the rest of the country

Darren Rodwell, Local Government Association

Darren Rodwell, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “Councils want to work with the Government to make our roads safe and attractive for everyone who uses them.

“However, it is councils – who know their communities best – that should be trusted to make local transport decisions with their local residents, not Whitehall.

“They must continue to have the ability to work with local residents on any measures which can help improve road safety and air quality and reduce congestion.

“Removing the ability of all councils to enforce moving traffic violations would be a backwards step that will risk creating a two-tier transport system between London and the rest of the country.”

It's also time to put a stop to some councils using unfair fines as a money spinner. We'll put a stop to councils profiting from traffic offences

Transport Secretary Mark Harper

Mr Harper also gave more details of plans to curb the use of 20mph speed limits, which were first revealed last week.

He said it “can’t be right” that these zones are “imposed without proper local consent”.

He went on: “We will change the Department for Transport’s guidance, requiring councils to only use 20mph zones where there is a good reason and underlining that 30mph is the default speed limit on urban roads.”

Mr Harper added: “It’s also time to put a stop to some councils using unfair fines as a money spinner.

“We’ll put a stop to councils profiting from traffic offences, clawing back revenue and removing any temptation to exploit you for profit.”

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