Oxford hit by wave of protests over '15-minute city' backlash

21/02/2023
Chris Ames

Approximately 2,000 people took part in demonstrations against Oxford's '15 minute neighbourhoods' plan, with protests and counter protests from different groups running throughout Saturday (18 September).

Thames Valley Police said a small number of arrests were made for public order offences, including two for failing to remove facemasks under Section 60AA of the Public Order Act. 

Videos and commentary circulating online suggest there was a fringe far right element to the 15-minute protest, which appeared to spark a counter protest of its own.

Image: Thames Valley Police

The police force later issued an update stating that it was aware of videos on social media showing protests and a group of counter-protesters and that footage that these will be reviewed and taken retrospectively where offences have been identified. 

Both Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and trial traffic filters have now been implemented in Oxford and the city council, as planning authority, is developing a linked policy of 15-minute neighbourhoods as part of its Local Plan 2040. 

Saturday's protest was organised by opponents of both LTNs and traffic filters and was attended by a number of people campaigning against the wider 15-minute neighbourhoods, sometimes called 15-minute cities, potential policy.

Three years ago, Oxfordshire County Council – the highway authority – and Oxford City Council said they would consider a joint plan to tackle congestion in the city and shift people from cars to sustainable transport modes, which might include both a workplace parking levy and ‘bus gates’.

In December, the two councils issued a joint statement after staff and councillors were said to have been subject to abuse ‘due to inaccurate information, being circulated online, about traffic filters’.

They said: ‘The misinformation online has linked the traffic filters to the 15-minute neighbourhoods proposal in the city council’s Local Plan 2040, suggesting that the traffic filters will be used to confine people to their local area. This is not true.’

However, the statement also pointed out that the traffic filters might in future restrict residents’ ability to drive by private car into other areas of the city and that people ‘might have to use a different route to avoid the filters, which would usually be the ring road’.

Any vehicle that goes through the traffic filter but is not exempt will be issued with a penalty notice charge of £70.

Traffic filters can be operated by automatic number plate recognition, which has raised concerns that people’s movement will be tracked.

While a number of other congested cities across England are considering plans for 15-minute neighbourhoods, Canterbury in Kent is the city with plans for trafic restrictions that most resemble those put forward for Oxford.

As part of its Local Plan 2045, Canterbury City Council published a Transport Topic Paper in October that included a circulation plan'.

This mooted 'a neighbourhood approach where additional road capacity is provided by a new movement corridor at the outskirts of the city, road space is reallocated to active travel and neighbourhood zones are created with modal filters at key points to remove all through traffic from the neighbourhood zones'.

However, Southend-on-Sea City Council has distanced itself from Oxford's approach following a local press report stating that was considering the ‘15-minute city’ approach.

Earlier this month, Cllr Carole Mulroney, cabinet member for environment, culture and tourism, said in a statement : ‘There appears to have been some crossed wires on two separate matters.

‘The concept of a local area with access to facilities within 15 minutes is something I am sure a lot of people would welcome. However, the idea of charging for travelling outside a zone is not acceptable in my view and Oxford is currently reaping the backlash on that.’

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