5 Arrested After Large-Scale Protest Against 15-Minute Cities in Oxford, England

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
February 21, 2023UK
5 Arrested After Large-Scale Protest Against 15-Minute Cities in Oxford, England
Unarmed police officers patrol the pedestrianised section of Oxford city centre in Oxford, England, on Sept. 19, 2012. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Five people were arrested during a large-scale protest on Feb. 18 in Oxford, England, where thousands marched against controversial traffic filters and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), as well as the general idea of 15-minute cities.

Thames Valley Police said in a statement that “a series of demonstrations” were held against “low traffic neighbourhoods and proposed traffic filters in the city.”

Video shared on Twitter showed crowds of people of all ages steadily marching and holding signs against traffic filters, LTNs, and 15-minute cities. Dense crowds could be seen peacefully gathered in a public area; a sign that reads “Say no to 15-minute cities ghettos” can be seen. Another sign amid a large crowd, seen via footage shot by Rebel News, reads: “You are the carbon they want to reduce.”

“The demonstrations proceeded peacefully, with large numbers of people converging, estimated at approximately 2,000, on the city to express their democratic right to demonstrate,” police stated.

The statement noted there was a “significant policing operation” in place “to ensure the safety of all those in attendance, while also seeking to limit disruption to members of the public.” Thames Valley Police did not disclose specifically how many officers were involved, reported the Oxford Mail.

Chief Superintendent Colin Paine, the officer in charge of policing the protests, said he was “pleased to say that the demonstrations concluded with no significant incidents or major disruption” and thanked people for “largely abiding by the law and exercising their right to protest peacefully.

Restrictions in Oxford

The Oxfordshire County Council, which includes the city of Oxford, in November 2022 approved a trial of “traffic filters” in efforts to reduce congestion and cut air pollution in the city.

As such, from 2024, six traffic filters will be imposed on some main roads around Oxford city, restricting private car drivers’ access between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and imposing fines for violations.

While all parts of the county will still remain accessible by car, drivers of private cars would need to obtain permits that are valid for 100 days a year to travel through the filters.

“The traffic filters are not physical barriers of any kind and will not be physical road closures. They are simply traffic cameras that can read number plates,” the county and city councils have said.

“If a vehicle passes through the filter at certain times of the day, the camera will read the number plate and (if you do not have an exemption or a residents’ permit) you will receive a fine in the post,” the councils noted. Such people will face a penalty charge notice of £35, which will increase to £70 if it is not paid within two weeks.

Everyone can go through all the filters at any time by bus, bike, taxi, scooter, or walking, and “exemptions will be granted to carers, blue badge holders, businesses, and emergency services,” according to the councils.

In addition to traffic filters, Oxford imposed three LTNs in 2022 and will impose another six LTNs to blanket the city in 2024. Bollards have been reported erected on some roads to discourage driving.

An LTN is “an area where motorised traffic is prevented from taking shortcuts through a residential area,” according to the county council. “This creates quieter and safer streets where residents may feel more comfortable when making local journeys by cycling, wheeling or on foot. All roads remain accessible, but drivers may have to find alternative routes instead of cutting through some streets.”

Separately, Oxford city has laid out a “Local Plan 2040” that, once adopted, would influence development in the city over the next 20 years. It aligns with the concept of 15-minute cities, also referred to as walkable cities, where basic amenities should be accessible to residents via a 15-minute walk or bike ride. Other English cities including Bristol, Canterbury, and Sheffield, have also proposed plans reflective of the 15-minute cities concept.

While such “15-minute cities”-style plans are distinct from traffic filters and LTNs, protesters at the Feb. 18 demonstrations say the restrictive traffic policies are a part and parcel with the 15-minute cities concept, which they say are aimed at restricting people’s movement under the guise of enhancing people’s quality of life and improving air quality.

Protesters Air Concerns

A male protester denounced the traffic filters, telling Rebel News: “It is essentially restricting people’s right to move. You have to pay the government in order to get around the block. And it’s going to kill small businesses, it’s going to kill tourism, it’s going to be crazy.”

One female protester told the outlet that it was important she and her friends attend the Feb. 18 protest because “this is the first trial that they’re going to do for the 15-minute cities,” adding “it’s really important to raise awareness right now before this gets out of control … it’s just going to restrict people’s freedom of movement.”

“Ultimately we have not been given a choice,” another protester told the outlet. She added, “This is the start of our freedom being taken away, we should be able to move as we please, we shouldn’t be fined and restricted to what they want us to do.”

Paul Smith, spokesperson for the Oxfordshire County Council, previously wrote in an email to The Associated Press that “Everywhere in the city will still be accessible by car,” and that “Nobody will need permission from the county council to drive or leave their home.”

Smith pointed out that drivers who lack a permit will also still be able to access all of the city without being fined, but they “might just need to use a different route or drive through the ring road to avoid the traffic filters.”

Liz Leffman, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, and Duncan Enright, the cabinet member for travel and development strategy, issued a statement in December 2022 in which they denounced misinformation that had been spread about the traffic filters in the city.

“We want to be absolutely clear: we are not planning a climate lockdown or a lockdown of any kind” where people would be locked in their homes, Leffman said.

“There’s been a lot of commentary that the filters will separate communities and stop people from visiting loved ones,” Enright said. “This is not true. You’ll still be able to drive your car to every single part of the city. We are just asking you to try to avoid inner-city roads, as we all know these roads are suffering from awful congestion, delay bus journeys, and are unsafe for people cycling and walking.”

A girl at the protest in Oxford shared a hypothetical scenario to contest the traffic filters policy. “Let’s say my friend lives in Zone 3 and I live in Zone 1. If, for example, I went to my friend’s house in Zone 3, my parents [would] normally come and pick me up in their car—it only takes 10 minutes.

“So does that mean they would have to go round the ring road and back into town again? [If so], it would take 30 minutes, causing much more pollution and leaving a much bigger carbon footprint. They will say, you can walk home! Would that be safe for me to walk home?

“… Then they will say, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that … We will have a thousand cameras on the streets following you and tracking you all the way home. Just remember, it’s for your safety.’ … No amount of cameras is going to stop someone who wants to attack me. I want to be safe, but not to the extent I am prepared to give up my freedom and my privacy to have it.”

She also alleged, although without providing evidence, that the 15-minute neighbourhoods would soon “become digital ID facial recognition zones.” She added, “We all know where this is leading … These are the first steps of a dystopian reality, from 15 minute neighbourhoods.”

From The Epoch Times

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