Councils’ use of DVLA records flagged in ‘misuse of 15-minute cities’ crackdown

Councils could be banned from accessing vehicle registration records 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 consider preventing local authorities from viewing records held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

Opponents of 15-minute cities claim the concept – based on having shops, services and workplaces near homes – is a conspiracy to restrict people’s movements.

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.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the Government was investigating its options (Danny Lawson/PA)

Mr Harper did not specify whether restrictions on councils would be limited to those in England or across the UK.

Transport policy is largely devolved in the UK, but the DVLA is an agency within the Westminster Government’s Department for Transport.

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 plates of vehicles committing motoring offences.

Mr Harper 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.”

Mr Harper reiterated that “no Government money” would be used to fund low traffic neighbourhoods – where motorised vehicles are banned from some streets – and pledged to “help councils tackle the menace of potholes”.

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “Being clearer with councils on important issues that affect drivers around traffic management – whether that’s the use of 20mph limits, implementing low traffic neighbourhoods or the enforcement of yellow boxes – is positive as, after all, eight in 10 say they would struggle to get by without a car.

“These measures will hopefully bring some much-needed consistency to how drivers are treated, as well as avoiding situations where potholes get left unattended for months.”

Nicholas Lyes, director of policy at charity IAM RoadSmart, said: “While broadly being good news for drivers and riders, scrapping certain policies shouldn’t mean that road safety is sacrificed at the altar of getting vehicles moving.

“Locally led schemes which reduce collisions on our roads, such as targeted 20mph limits, need to be supported with good quality infrastructure.

“The Government needs to be clear in its guidance and allow local authorities to push forward with schemes to reduce road casualties.”