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Tory MP attacks 15-minute city concept with known conspiracy theory

Nick Fletcher was met with laughter in Parliament when he called 15-minute cities an “international socialist concept“

A Conservative MP has criticised the concept of ‘15-minute cities’, citing known conspiracy theories about the schemes which aim to create neighbourhoods where residents can walk or cycle to the nearest shop, cafe, school, or any essential necessity in a short period of time.

Nick Fletcher, the first Tory MP to represent Don Valley in Doncaster, said that the concept stems from socialist ideology and is an infringement on individual freedom.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, he demanded a debate on the “international socialist concept of so-called 15-minute cities”, and said that the schemes could “take away our personal freedom”.

“Sheffield is already on this journey and I do not want Doncaster, which is also a Labour-run socialist council, to do the same,” he added. Fletcher’s demand for the debate is yet to be realised and he was greeted with laughs and jeers in the House of Commons.

Ultra-low emission zones, or ULEZ, were also a topic of the MP’s ire, as he later wrote on Twitter, accusing them of causing immeasurable damage to the local economy. He also claimed that the 15-minute city will “destroy our towns and cities and keep us prisoners in our communities”.

Proposed by Professor Carlos Moreno, an urbanist who won the Orbel Award in 2021 for the contribution, 15-minute city plans are currently set to begin trial in Oxford in 2024 and are being considered by many councils in the UK, in places such as Birmingham, Bristol, Canterbury, and Sheffield.

These policies sometimes use traffic filters, such as planters or bollards to reduce through-traffic and improve conditions for walking and cycling, creating what’s called a ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhood’, or an LTN.

However, these measures have caused right-wingers and conspiracy theorists to flock in opposition, drumming up misinformation and peddling fear-mongering rhetoric.

One such conspiracy group, led by alleged serial scammer David Fleming, organised a demonstration against Oxford’s plans in January, claiming that the council was using green schemes as a front to extend Covid-19 lockdowns and instate a totalitarian, surveillance state.

An investigation by Open Democracy today revealed that Fleming allegedly previously headed a company which was dissolved after taking donations for an “audit” of Covid deaths that has not been published, accusations he denies.

Out of growing misinformation, Oxfordshire County Council even put out a statement and a video, in which Cllr Liz Leffman said they were receiving panicked calls from residents fearing that they would be locked in their homes.

And it's not the first time that Oxford’s traffic-reducing measures have come under attack from its detractors. In what was referred to as an ongoing ‘civil war’ between the council and residents, vandals cut down bollards using power tools, overturned planters and melted bollards into the road last July.

> Vandals target LTN bollards and planters less than 24 hours after trial is introduced

The conspiracy group led by Fleming, whose company raised funds for an audit on the actual number of deaths due to Covid and was then dissolved, allegedly disappearing with the money, is called Not Our Future (NOF).

NOF has garnered backing from high-profile right-wing figures like writer James Delinpole, actor Laurence Fox, GB News presenter Neil Oliver, and members of music group Right Said Fred, the Fairbrass brothers. Commentator Katie Hopkins also released a video last year echoing similar thoughts, suggesting that the 15-minute city is part of a vast governmental trend of “coercive control”.

The rhetoric is being peddled on social media sites such as Twitter and TikTok, and also taken up by politicians like Nigel Farage, who called the Canterbury plan a “climate lockdown”.

Even the House of Commons Leader, Conservative Penny Mordaunt backed Fletcher, suggesting that the concerns about these kinds of policies were legitimate. 

Quoting Fletcher’s original thread, fact-checker for Reuters Nick Hardinges broke down some of the comments made by the MP, for example, mentioning that in the case of Oxford, there wouldn’t be any physical barriers in the six proposed trial zones.

An Oxford City Council spokesperson commented that “no filters will ‘trap’ residents... they're points on a road, not a ‘zone’. People living on roads near them can enter & leave via other roads ANY time without a permit”.

Adwitiya joined in 2023 as a news writer after completing his masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He also covers local and national politics for Voice Wales, and sometimes writes about science, tech and the environment. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him riding his bike on the scenic routes, fighting his urge to stop pedalling and click photographs (apparently not because he's bonking).

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