A national debate is raging over the creation of ’15-minute cities’ a term coined by urbanist Professor Carlos Moreno and advocated by C40, a global network of mayors.
The vision for ’15-minute cities’ is to have all essential services such as education, employment, grocery shops and more within walking or cycling distance of where people live, thereby reducing dependency on cars.
While the concept of having the necessities of life in easy reach is appealing, opponents have warned the measures used to implement such neighbourhoods are authoritarian, and restrict freedom of movement for the public.
Measures associated with the creation of ’15-minute cities’ have attracted national attention in Oxford, where the city council is exploring using number plate recognition cameras to seek to penalise drivers for using certain routes.
There are concerns that such measures could be imposed in Reading, with Robin Willow of Prince of Wales Avenue, in West Reading, raising the issue to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
Mr Willow said: “This is likely to interfere with people’s movements because what happens when they impose these things, they don’t impose them for the benefit of local people.
“They’ve already done this to a certain extent because if you’re coming out from Prince of Wales Avenue you can only go towards Tilehurst, you’re not allowed to turn right for many of those roads.
“It means you have to go up to Tilehurst Road and down Western Elms Avenue to turn right.
“They’re already doing a bit of this when they’re blocking people’s accesses, they doubtless have their interests in what they’re doing, but it is obstructive, it doesn’t help people.”
Mr Willow argued that businesses that rely on passing trade and vehicle use for custom could collapse if restrictive measures are imposed.
He also expressed concern about driving restrictions in the town centre such as the red route, which he argues has caused problems for traders at the town market in St Mary’s Butts.
Mr Willow said: “The council have imposed the red route, obstructing access.
“I contacted the council, I said ‘surely there should be a space here for people to bring their vehicle in and you can do an exception for unloading and loading’ they were intransigent.”
Furthermore, Mr Willow has argued against the installation of planting boxes used to block vehicle access to roads.
He said: “It’s like the low traffic neighbourhoods in London, where they suddenly, without talking to the people, put these big planters blocking the roads, so people, ambulances, fire engines the police cannot get through.”
These planters have been installed in Reading as well, with an example being the Watlington Street junction with Queen’s Road, which is blocked off by two planters, only allowing pedestrians and cyclists access.
Meanwhile, one way systems have been a part of Reading commuter life for years.
Indeed, a council spokesperson said these traffic calming initiatives have been in place for decades and pre-date “the relatively new concept” of 15 minute cities.
Addressing whether the council intends to create a ’15-minute city’ in Reading, a spokesperson said: “The council has no plans at present to declare a ’15-minute city’.
“The council will continue to deal with local traffic management issues as required, on a case by case basis, and in accordance with our Local Transport Strategy, which is due to be updated later this year following a period of public consultation to be advised.”
The first red route in Reading was established in 2018 and has grown since.
It works as a ‘no parking allowed’ route and is enforced by the council’s army of parking officers and its CCTV enforcement car.