15 Minute Cities: Utopia or Dystopia?

29 March 2023 , categories: 15 minute cities, Free speech, Manchester, Meetings

The idea of everything you need being within 15 minutes of where you live sounds like a great idea.  Why do some people have concerns? 

On 29th March 2023, Politics in Pubs met at the Welcome Inn, Bury Old Road, Prestwich, M45 6TA, Prestwich, Manchester to discuss the topic ’15 Minute Cities: Utopia or Dystopia’. The topic was introduced by our guest speaker Daniel Zlupko, Manchester ambassador for the Together Declaration.

What’s all the fuss about?

The idea of everything you need being within 15 minutes of where you live sounds like a great idea.  Food, drink, entertainment, all within 15 minutes of your home, with no need to travel long distances for anything.  Who would argue with that?  Why would you argue with that?

Since Covid lockdowns, we have seen the implementation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and proposals for 15 Minute Cities without any democratic vote being held to let the public decide whether or not they want them.

Why are they being proposed?  Are councils listening to people who express concerns?  Why are the proposals being labelled ‘climate lockdowns’?  Daniel Zlupko joined us to address all of these questions as we take a look at 15 Minute Cities, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, the Climate Change connection and following the money.

What are 15 Minute Cities, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, Clean Air Zones and ULEZ?

Danny explained how these schemes are designed to reduce vehicle emissions in accordance with the Net Zero agenda.  The schemes discourage vehicle journeys into or out of designated areas by implementing a range of driving-related restrictions.

15 Minute Cities would be split into zones (typically four) with ‘everything’ you need inside your zone.  Driving outside of your zone more than the permitted number of times during a year would incur fines.  But who decides what ‘everything’ is?  And how does that square with the loss of neighbourhood facilities like banks, local shops, health services and schools?

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are already being installed in Levenshulme, Altrincham and Rochdale.  Large planters and other barriers are used to block off specific roads to traffic.   The impact on local businesses, neighbouring roads and people for whom vehicle use is essential appears to be disregarded

In 2008, the people of Greater Manchester voted decisively against the introduction of a congestion charge in a referendum: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2008/dec/12/congestioncharging-transport). In spite of that, and without further consultation, Manchester is required to implement a Clean Air Zone to “….meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide on local roads ‘in the shortest possible time’ and by 2026 at the latest“.  The scheme has been paused following a public backlash: https://www.manchesterworld.uk/news/greater-manchester-clean-air-zone-whats-happening-4013950. Clean Air Zones like the one in Bristol charges liable vehicles £9 per day.

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is already in place and London Mayor Sadiq Khan is expanding it from inner London to all 32 London boroughs.  Cars which are liable are charged at £12.50 per day.  This is on top of any congestion charge liability, which is £15 per day. https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/ultra-low-emission-zone/ulez-expansion-2023

Why are The Driving-Related Restriction Schemes Being Introduced?

Fewer vehicle journeys and more walking, cycling and public transport (a.k.a. ‘active travel’) means less traffic pollution.  Danny explained that Manchester’s target is for 90% of journeys into the city to be via active travel with only 10% by car.   If only it was that easy to walk, cycle or use public transport instead of driving.  Many towns, villages and cities do not have the necessary public transport/active travel infrastructure and connectivity of inner London.  Public transport is costly and has limited operating hours.  Some journeys involve the carriage of goods, luggage or people with limited mobility.  The imposition of driving-related restriction schemes will cause punitive limitations for many UK residents and curb their freedom of movement across neighbourhoods, cities, districts and other parts of the country.

Each council has set a deadline (all roughly 2040) to reach a goal of net zero carbon.  But the effect of introducing these schemes in the name of  Net Zero and the ‘climate crisis’ – where driving is restricted without providing viable alternatives – could also be described as ‘Climate Lockdowns’ where citizens are blamed for climate change, surveilled by countless cameras and punished by the authorities for driving or for leaving their localities at will.  Comparisons could be made with Covid Lockdowns where people were tracked and traced by technology and forbidden from leaving their homes or from entering venues, medical facilities, schools or their places of work.  Highly disproportionate when considering the tiny risk the Covid virus represented to most people.  What level of risk to citizens is caused by the climate ‘crisis’ and traffic pollution and does it justify urgent introduction of these schemes without the public’s agreement?

Why have Councils Signed Up to 2040 Net Zero Targets?

Pressure on councils to meet these targets emanates from a variety of sources.


In 2008 the Climate Change Act was passed committing the UK to an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.  In 2015, party leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg pledged to not challenge each other’s climate policies, after lobbying by an organisation called Green Alliance (note that name).  The pledge effectively cut out any choice for voters.  In 2019, the Climate Change Act was amended to reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2050.  This was after a 90 minute debate – but no vote – in Parliament.  The amendment places pressure on councils to act.

C40 Cities

C40 Cities describes itself as “…a network of mayors of nearly 100 world-leading cities collaborating to deliver the urgent action needed right now to confront the climate crisis.  Together we can create a future where everyone can thrive” https://www.c40.org  C40 Cities, formerly chaired by Michael Bloomberg (note that name), is currently chaired by Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London.  Greater Manchester has been signed up to this group by its current mayor, Andy Burnham.  More pressure on local councils.


This organisation is “a network of local leaders who have pledged to lead a rapid transition to Net Zero with Clean Air in their communities ahead of the government’s legal target“.  That’s clean air with a capital C and a capital A.   https://www.uk100.org/UK100membership  Even more pressure to be seen to be acting.

In summary, councils are putting driving-related restriction schemes in place because of the reaction of government, council leaders and mayors to a climate ‘crisis’.  But there are a couple of elephantine questions in the room which have yet to be addressed.  Firstly, is climate change the same as a climate ‘crisis’ – do we all share the same fear of imminent death from climate change exhibited by politicians and council leaders?  And, secondly, when will voters be asked whether the response of councils and government to the perceived crisis is wanted or needed by communities, or proportionate to the cited risk?

Meet two billionaires…..

Michael Bloomberg is is an American businessman, politician, philanthropist, and author.  In June 2022 he was ranked as the sixteenth richest person in the world.  He is the founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Sir Christopher Hohn is a British billionaire hedge fund manager. He established The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation in 2002.  Danny followed their money…..

Who funds C40 Cities?

Some standout funders are Bloomberg Philanthropies, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Realdana, Ikea, Google and the UK Government.  The full list is here:  https://www.c40.org/funders-partners/.  A key C40 Cities partner is the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, co-chaired by Michael Bloomberg (founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies) and Frans Timmerman (European Commission Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal).

Who funds UK100.org?

Key financial supporters include the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the European Climate Foundation, Siemens, Marks & Spencer and Landsec.  Its core operations are funded by the Ikea Foundation, the Quadrature Climate Foundation, and the European Climate Foundationhttps://www.uk100.org/board

Who funds the European Climate Foundation?

Bloomberg Philanthropies, Children’s Investment Fund, the IKEA Foundation among others https://europeanclimate.org/funding-grantmaking/.  And who does the European Climate Foundation provide grants to?  The Green Alliance is one – remember they lobbied Cameron, Milliband and Clegg in 2015.  The European Climate Foundation also provided ‘support’ to The Guardian newspaper’s environment coverage.

So, European Climate Foundation and C40 Cities are funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.  The European Climate Foundation funds UK100.org, the Green Alliance, Client Earth and The Guardian.

What is the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation?  It is the philanthropic organisation of Sir Christopher Hohn.  Up to now it has committed $847 million to climate change projects (including $44 million to the European Climate Foundation) and $83 million to climate related litigation (including $26 million to Client Earth).  https://ciff.org/grant-portfolio/

Client Earth, an organisation which takes governments and organisations to court over matters such as air pollution, is partly funded by the UK Government, receiving £4 million of taxpayers’ money: https://www.clientearth.org/about/who-we-are/transparency/#funding.  The British people are funding an organisation which sues them: https://www.clientearth.org/about/who-we-are/transparency/?query=UK+government

To sum up Danny’s pursuit of some of these billionaires’ money: Michael Bloomberg funds C40 Cities, Global Covenant of Mayors, European Climate Foundation.  Global Covenant of Mayors funds C40 Cities.  Sir Christopher Hohn funds C40 Cities, UK100, European Climate Foundation, Client Earth.  Are they true philanthropists or is Net Zero and the ‘climate crisis’ a pet project for them?

Pet Project or Climate Crisis?

If there really was a climate crisis, surely the UK’s Office of National Statistics would have recorded more than one death caused by car emissions between 2001 and 2021.  Authorities would be consulting and recruiting the public – with carrots rather than the stick – to avert the crisis and providing viable, affordable alternatives to driving.   Councils like London wouldn’t be installing ULEZ cameras before carrying out a public consultation.  Oxford Council wouldn’t be covering up data that risked jeopardising its traffic zones (later revealed by an FOI request).  Councils wouldn’t be destroying trees to install CAZ cameras or make electric bus lanes.

Danny asks:  If there really was a genuine need for all these restrictions because of a climate crisis surely the solution wouldn’t be “You can’t go there unless you pay for it”.

So, 15 Minute Cities: Utopia or Dystopia?

After listening to Danny’s presentation, Politics in Pubs shared a lively debate.  We welcome all points of view at our meetings.  Some members felt that 15 Minute Cities were Utopian, others felt they were dystopian, some were undecided.  Many were concerned about Net Zero’s funding sources, the influence of key individuals and corporations upon the Net Zero agenda, its punitive approach, and the absence of democracy from the decisions being made by politicians and leaders (not one local councillor turned up to Low Traffic Neighbourhood opposition events in Oxford, Bath and Birmingham organised by Together).

Thank you Danny, for a fascinating, well-researched, thought-provoking presentation.

Together Declaration

Together https://togetherdeclaration.org/about/is an organisation that fights for freedom.  Its campaigns include the Online Safety Bill, Apologise, Reinstate and Compensate the Care Workers who lost their jobs due to the Covid vaccine mandate, 15 minute cities, low traffic neighbourhoods, the Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London, Clean Air Zones – any restrictions on freedom of movement.  Together has seven principles:

  1. No future overreach in the name of ‘safety’. We say #NeverAgain to Lockdowns.
  2. Uphold fundamental rights for citizens, applying unified pressure when legislation puts these at risk.
  3. Safeguarding open debate and free speech.
  4. Freedom to congregate and protest.
  5. Bodily autonomy must be respected without exception.
  6. Privacy and anonymity are a fundamental right. Digial IDs and Central Bank Digital Currencies create worrying surveillance possibilities by their very design.
  7. We, the public, must always be heard and not treated with contempt or sidelined.

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