Outlandish Conspiracy Theories Now Shaping Real Transit Policy In the UK

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“These shocking revelations show Rishi Sunak was more concerned with crazy conspiracy theories than helping people travel safely and cheaply. It’s absurd for ministers to be swept away by hysteria about 15-minute cities, at the same time that other government departments were defending them.”

The concept of a 15-minute city is simple and already present in both large cities and small towns around the world. It’s the classic idea of being able to walk down to your town’s main street to shop or work. In larger cities, it’s the same methodology but within neighborhoods. It’s a philosophy intended to reduce car dependency as well as the need for public transportation on routine short trips.

Yes, the most popular theory regarding 15-minute cities is that the government wants to restrict freedom of movement. Britain is already one of the most surveilled countries on the planet. The country’s law enforcement doesn’t need walkable neighborhoods to follow people (and cars) via CCTV cameras.

At last year’s Conservative Party conference, Harper noted how the design philosophy behind 15-minute cities is well-established before immediately feeding the conspiracies (many of which are propped up by, you guessed it, the oil industry.) According to the BBC, the minister stated:

Preserving and encouraging walkable communities shouldn’t be controversial, even among drivers. The fewer people who need to drive reduces road traffic for people who want to get behind the wheel. If driving is less of a necessity to live, it would also allow governments to raise the driving standards to get a license.

With the backing of an irrational and skeptical populace, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been able to push back against unrelated policies, such as introducing through traffic restrictions and 20 mph speed limits in residential areas. Documents showing how the policy shifts were encouraged by conspiracy theories were uncovered in a lawsuit by the Transport Action Network. The organization’s director Chris Todd told the Guardian:

“There’s nothing wrong with making sure people can walk or cycle to the shops or school. That’s traditional town planning.”

The United Kingdom sure seemed to be heading towards encouraging walkable communities, typically referred to as 15-minute cities. However, the ruling Conservative Party government made a U-turn on the policy direction and started promoting driving seemingly based on almost nothing but conspiracy theories, the Guardian reports. Even the country’s transport minister Mark Harper has made speeches lending credence to these illogical theories.

“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 roads and when, and they police it all with CCTV.”