Why pick on 15-minute cities, for goodness sake?


I know our attention is supposed to have moved on this week, and that the Labour conference is now in the spotlight. But before we forget what it felt like to be around the Conservative party last week, I just wanted to write about a highly revealing interview which I happened to hear on the PM programme.

It was between the presenter, Evan Davis, and the minister for nuclear and networks at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, Andrew Bowie MP, and it was all about his defence of transport minister Mark Harper’s speech – during which there was a passage about that Great Threat to Life, the Universe and Everything, known as 15-minute cities (I am exaggerating for effect!).

It was in fact a brilliant piece of radio journalism. Evan Davis comes across as a nice guy, even as he worries way at a nugget of information. He certainly isn’t backward in coming forward, but equally nobody would ever describe him as a tough-guy interviewer.

Yet he focused on precisely the story at the moment about the government that they are developing a number of conspiracy theories ready for next year’s general election.

Bowie had to defend that proposition, about ‘15-minute cities’.

The irony is, as both men agreed, that most people would love to live in compact neighbourhoods, where most services and shops can be accessed by foot in 15 minutes, without having to drive around for miles. As a planning slogan, it works.

“But what is different, what is sinister and what we shouldn’t tolerate,” Mark Harper had said in his speech, “is the idea that local councils can decide how often you go to the shops, and that they ration who uses the road and when, and they police it all with CCTV.”

But as Evan Davis said, this makes no sense. And I’m no more aware than he was of any local authorities which are planning anything of the kind – nor was Bowie able to point towards anywhere where people’s comings and goings are going to be regulated.

But somehow one car crash interview won’t be enough to scotch the rumours, and I am nervous how much the canard about defending drivers will spread – especially once the election starts ramping up and the whole press corps gets down to systematically digging up people’s fear, and the Tory coffers start to be opened.

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