Dezeen Magazine

Nick Fletcher

UK politician attacks 15-minute city concept in parliament

UK member of parliament Nick Fletcher has ignited a debate about 15-minute cities after stating that they "will take away personal freedoms".

Speaking in the House of Commons, the elected lower house of the UK parliament, Fletcher called for a "debate on the international socialist concept of so-called 15-minute cities and 20-minute neighbourhoods".

"Ultra-low emissions zones in their present form do untold economic damage to any city, however, the second step after these zones will take away personal freedoms as well," he said.

Developed by French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno, the 15-minute city concept proposes creating cities where people have access to key amenities by travelling no more than 15 minutes on foot or by bike.

"What's wild is the '15-minute city' is literally about choice"

Originally unveiled in 2016, the model aims to improve the quality of life of those living within dense urban areas by reducing the need to drive.

Fletcher's remarks in Parliament were picked up on British channel GB News, which described 15-minute cities as "deeply illiberal" and "unBritish".

Carlos Moreno
Politician Nick Fletcher (top) has criticised the 15-minute city developed by Carlos Moreno (above)

Architects and academics were highly critical of the interpretation of 15-minute cities. Dezeen opinion-writer Philip Oldfield, who is head of the school of the built environment at UNSW Sydney, tweeted: "Last year, if I had to guess what would be the batshit conspiracy theory of 2023, I would have never guessed it would be 'town planning where you can walk to the shops'."

"What's wild is the '15-minute city' is literally about choice," he continued. "The choice that you don't have to drive to the out of town shopping centre, you can walk/bike to local shops too. Dude, no one is going to stop you driving to Costco."

Debunked theory suggests plan would "lock residents" in neighbourhoods

The model has been in the news recently, with some people suggesting that the concept will require people to stay within a designated 15-minute zone.

This theory received widespread attention last year following a plan by Oxford council to restrict travel on six roads during certain times of the day to reduce congestion.

A well-shared article suggested that the plan would "lock residents into one of six zones".

Although widely debunked, the theory forms the basis for continued criticism of existing traffic-reducing measures in the UK, including Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.

These measures, which include closing minor roads to traffic with the aim of reducing the number of vehicles using smaller roads as cut-throughs, have become a battleground for local planners.

15-minute city concept in Paris
The concept is being integrated into Paris' urban policies

Outside of the UK, the 15-minute city concept forms part of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo's plans for the city.

In 2021, Moreno won the Obel Prize for developing the concept and his contribution to urbanism.

"We need to broaden our focus to include different densities and territories: from the small cities to the mid-sized cities and even to the rural territories," Moreno said at the time.

"We need to keep the concept of the 15-minute city but imagine new ways to implement its principle of proximity in other densities."