What are 15-minute cities and where will they be in the UK?

The new plan to improve urban living is also sparking some bizarre conspiracy theories. So what's going on?

Oxford from above
Oxford's proposal to become a 15-minute city has attracted controversy. (Getty) (zodebala via Getty Images)

To some, it's a way of cutting down commutes and improving quality of life. To others, it's a sinister conspiracy designed to lock people in their neighbourhoods.

The concept of "15-minute cities", an urban planning scheme aimed at encouraging walking and cycling, has been challenged by Rishi Sunak, who has said he will seek to stop local councils "waging a war on motorists".

Speaking to the Sun, the Prime Minister said he would be consulting on ways to prevent 15-minute city schemes which “aggressively restrict” where people are permitted to drive.

He said: “There is just this relentless attack on motorists and a common misunderstanding from politicians in Westminster about the fact that most people around the country depend on their cars.

“What we want to do now is make sure that all these hare-brained schemes forced on local communities, whether it's low traffic neighbourhoods, whether it's in blanket 20 mile an hour speed limits, all of that… need to stop."

What is a 15-minute city?

The 15-minute city idea was developed and popularised by French-Colombian professor Carlos Moreno, who envisioned a future where city dwellers could have access to everything they need within walking distance.

Shops, schools, workplaces, doctors, parks, libraries, and restaurants are all placed within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from home under the scheme.

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Alexander Spatari via Getty Images

Now, the concept is being integrated in parts of Paris under mayor Anne Hidalgo's plans to create more self-sufficient communities with more diverse economies, while also cutting pollution and stress.

The notion gained ground during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw people spending more time in their local neighbourhood than ever before.

Will there be 15-minute cities in the UK?

Oxford has set out to become a 15-minute city by the next decade under the 2040 local plan set out by its city council.

The local authority says this is to create a walkable city where people have everything they need a short distance away.

But the plan has sparked protests among people who have conflated it with Oxfordshire County Council's Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme, which has seen bollards erected on some roads to discourage driving.

Traffic filters are set to be installed on six roads in early 2024, which has fuelled conspiracy theories that this would result in people being "confined" to their areas.

And Sunak has targeted the devolved administration in Wales for making 20mph the default speed limit on restricted roads and built-up areas such as town centres, saying: “What we want to make sure is that local communities are not having these things imposed upon them.

"We've seen that happening in Wales. That's not right. And we're going to take a different approach to this.”

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The iconic Selfridges building in Birmingham city centre, UK.
Birmingham is also aiming to become a 15-minute city in the future. (Getty) (Ashley Cooper via Getty Images)

Oxford county and city councils said in a joint statement that "misinformation online" has linked the two schemes to each other, adding that the 15-minute neighbourhood idea aims to "support and add services, not restrict them".

A city council spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo News UK that the two schemes are separate, although they will of course both affect the same city.

However, Southend Council appears to have conflated the 15-minute city concept with restricting people's movement and traffic fines, and has completely ruled it out.

Its councillor for the environment, Carole Mulroney, said: "This inter-zonal travel charging, I’m totally against. I’m totally against charging zones and restrictions on movements."

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In 2021, Ipswich announced its goal to become the UK's first 15-minute town in a "post COVID world", in a bid to improve connectivity and help businesses bounce back after the pandemic.

Birmingham also plans to become a 15-minute city, while Colchester has said the idea "should not be off the table".

Other cities and towns in the UK considering implementing 15-minute city schemes include Bristol, Sheffield and Canterbury.