A few weeks ago, I prodded my “representative,” Jeremy Hunt MP, on the issue of our freedom to drive cars. I copied to him the letter I sent to the transport secretary, Mark Harper MP, which you can find here: https://libertarianism.uk/2023/02/17/an-open-letter-to-mark-harper-mp-secretary-of-state-for-transport/. Mr. Hunt replied yesterday. Here are his reply and my response to it. At least I got a substantive reply! I could dissect Mr. Hunt’s reply if I chose to. But I’ll leave you, my dear reader, to do that for yourself.
Thank you for your email regarding restrictions on car use and 15-minute neighbourhoods. I apologise for the slight delay in getting back to you.
I am aware of recent debates about the concept of 15-minute neighbourhoods and cities. I am also aware of the specific proposals from Oxford City Council which I should note have not been funded by the government.
However, as part of the Levelling Up Fund, the government has provided funding for a 15-minute neighbourhood project in Newham. To be clear, the concept I refer to is about ensuring that everyone has access to everyday needs and essentials, such as shops, local parks or healthcare facilities, within a 15-minute walk of their home. I believe we can all agree on the benefits of improving local connectivity and ensuring day-to-day essentials are easily accessible.
I understand that local authorities are encouraged to focus on transport issues from the earliest stage in the planning system. The National Planning Policy Framework advises that significant new housing developments should be focused on locations which either are or can be made sustainable and offer a genuine choice of transport modes. Public transport is an important part of these developments, but I do not believe this means that any restrictions on car use are being implemented.
I hope this explains the government’s position on this matter, but as this is an issue you care deeply about I will continue to monitor developments closely.
Finally, if you do not already receive it, would it be helpful for you to receive my weekly update of events in Westminster and locally? You can sign up here and can unsubscribe at any time.
Thank you again for taking the time to raise your concerns with me.
The Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt,
Member of Parliament for South West Surrey.
My reply (Sent Sat 11/03/2023 13:31)
Dear Mr Hunt,
To an extent the 15-minute cities and the traffic restrictions are separate issues, but they seem to have been rolled into one in the minds of many people, including those in Oxford. This is unsurprising, given that they are being pushed at the same time by the same parties, in that case Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council. And there is already talk of similar traffic schemes being extended to smaller Oxfordshire towns, such as Witney.
We can all see how dishonest Oxfordshire have been with their pseudo-“consultation.” If local governments are behaving in these ways towards the people they are supposed to serve, should national government not step in and ensure that schemes such as these, which clearly do not have the support of the people affected by them, are ditched?
While the 15-minute neighbourhood concept may be appropriate in big cities or for new build, it is clearly unworkable in places like Godalming. And restrictions on cars are a no-no where the public transport is anything less than excellent. My concern is that there is rising pressure to impose these kinds of policies in areas where they are not appropriate.
I wish I could share your apparent optimism when you say “I do not believe this means that any restrictions on car use are being implemented.” As you will know, Surrey County Council is a member of UK 100, a group of councils who “have pledged to lead a rapid transition to Net Zero with Clean Air in their communities ahead of the government’s legal target.” Waverley Borough Council is not yet part of this organization, but that seems to be only a matter of time. The way I see things developing, “Nett Zero” has already been used to stop anyone but the rich from being able to afford to buy new or nearly new cars, and “Clean Air” is then lined up to be used as the excuse to make it impossible for people to continue to run their older cars.
I have written a (highly acerbic) screed on UK 100, and its city counterpart C40, here: https://libertarianism.uk/2023/02/15/our-local-enemies/.