In a surprising turn of events, what was once derided as a fringe conspiracy – the idea of 15-minute cities – has now been embraced and incorporated into government policy by the British government. This significant shift in perspective has prompted Tory MP Mark Harper to denounce the concept, marking a stark departure from the initial dismissal and ridicule the idea received merely eight months ago.
Harper, addressing the party conference in Manchester, lambasted the idea of 15-minute cities, characterizing it as a Labour-backed movement to impede the convenience of driving and encroach upon citizens’ freedom of movement. He underscored concerns about local councils wielding excessive power, regulating shopping trips, and overseeing road usage through intrusive CCTV monitoring.
This transformation in the government’s stance comes after fellow Tory MP Nick Fletcher faced mockery for supporting the concept in the House of Commons months ago. Fletcher cautioned against the purported socialist underpinnings of the 15-minute city, emphasizing its potential infringement on personal liberties.
Protests against measures implemented by UK councils to curtail speed limits and institute low-traffic neighborhoods have bolstered the traction of the 15-minute city conspiracy. On September 29, the government introduced a new transport plan explicitly referencing the contentious theory, emphasizing its commitment to prioritize driving in urban planning over walking or cycling.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak further discredited the 15-minute city concept, expressing concern about its potential impact on ordinary citizens. He criticized short-term decisions by politicians that might negatively affect people without due consideration.
While the 15-minute city idea initially emerged as an urban planning concept to enhance accessibility within cities, its evolution into a conspiracy theory gained momentum amid social media discussions in 2020. It became entangled with exaggerated claims of impending climate lockdowns and globalist agendas, alleging control over people’s lives and local communities, sparking widespread misinformation.
This conspiracy has found resonance among right-wing audiences in the United States, amplified by figures like psychologist-turned-conspiracy theorist Jordan Peterson. Instances such as the Hawaii wildfires saw conspiracy theorists on social media platforms purporting the intentional use of direct-energy weapons to incite fires, ostensibly to pave the way for the creation of a new 15-minute city.