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Oxford, Bristol and Sheffield embrace 15-minute city: Is the concept a boon or a curse? 


Oxford, Bristol and Sheffield embrace 15-minute city: Is the concept a boon or a curse? 

Have you ever found yourself at the wheel, seething with anger as new bollards prevent you using a short cut?

Or swerving to keep out of a rarely used cycle lane? If so, it’s a fair bet you may be experiencing the latest concept in urban planning: the 15-minute city.

This scheme, developed by French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno, proposes that people should be able to find all the amenities they need — shops, healthcare, schools, leisure — a 15-minute walk or bicycle ride from their homes.

Royal approval: Queen Mother Square in the King’s pet building project, Poundbury, Dorset which is built along 15-minute city lines

It aims to remove the need for people to visit city centres (and even when they do it is likely only to be only on public transport), so reducing car usage and benefiting the environment. 

Rat-run roads will be blocked off so that people can form community-minded urban villages.

The idea is gaining traction. Oxford, Bristol, Canterbury and Sheffield councils have all put forward plans to introduce elements of the 15-minute city, while Bath also pays lip-service to it.

King Charles’s pet building project, Poundbury in Dorset, is built along 15-minute city lines, with businesses and residential property existing side by side.

The 15-minute city does have its critics. Some claim that pressurising people to stay within their own neighbourhoods is an outrageous attack on their personal freedom.

They further argue that it will have a disastrous effect on city centres, creating more empty shops.

Nick Fletcher, Tory MP for Don Valley, speaking in the House of Commons, described it as an ‘international socialist concept’, and called for a debate.

Planners and architects disagree. ‘The aim is not to seal off communities,’ says Jorge Beroiz, principal at award-winning architecture practice, CRTK.

‘If it is crafted carefully on to the existing environment the 15-minute city becomes about choice — to buy necessities such as a pint of milk or to meet your friends for a drink — without having to get in your car.’

Here are three cities planning to make the 15-minute city a reality.

Oxford debate

Plans for 15-minute zones in the city of dreaming spires had the locals up in arms last month.

Up to 2,000 clashed with police, incensed at the Local Plan 2040 which will see traffic filters installed on six roads, enabling drivers to move freely around their own neighbourhoods but facing fines of up to £70 if they drive through the filters.

Oxford has some of the most expensive homes in the country. North Oxford and Summertown are notoriously pricey, and in Jericho, rather like Hampstead in North London, seemingly modest terrace homes often sell for more than £2 million.

‘You get more property for your money in the Lye Valley area, where 1930s semis come with big gardens,’ says Jonathan Gregory of Humberts estate agents. ‘With a nature reserve and golf course nearby, it’s a good place for families.’

Join a Bath hub

During the pandemic, many of Bath’s residents became used to working from home, shopping and socialising in local ‘hubs’.

The council has developed this trend into its version of the 15-minute city, with the aim of being carbon neutral by 2030. It’s an ambitious ask because the amount of traffic in the city has doubled since 1990.

Bath, with its galleries, historic pubs and coffee shops, has an irresistible charm. House prices are sky high — partially fuelled by Airbnb investors. A three-bedroom apartment in one of the grand houses in the Landsdown area will set you back at least £2 million.

Bear Flat is popular, being close to the shops and a park. A three-bed terrace Edwardian house sold there for £942,000 before Christmas. The average price of a property last year was £634,000, which is 17 per cent up on the previous year.

Freeing up Canterbury

Although it is impressive, with beautiful Georgian homes, a limestone cathedral and medieval streets, Canterbury often feels full of traffic to bursting point.

To counter this, the council proposes to divide the city into five zones, fining motorists who cross them. 

If you wish to travel across the city you’ll need to drive to its perimeter and onto the proposed eastern bypass before re-entering.

This has incensed many people, including former Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, who told Kent Online: ‘It paints a grim picture of a dystopian future of people constantly being under mass surveillance.’

The most sought-after homes are within the city walls. St Dunstan’s has a boho feel and is close to the High Speed 1 service from Canterbury West station. 

Properties in the city sold for a comparatively modest average of £347,000 last year.

So will the 15-minute city make Canterbury even more desirable and boost house prices? The jury is still out.

On the market… and in the centre 

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