Edinburgh councillors have raised concerns over the spread of “wild conspiracy theories” about 20-minute neighbourhoods.
The concept, which has been incorporated into the city’s approach to planning and active travel, aims to ensure people can access the services they need in a 20-minute round trip from their front door without needing to drive.
But there are fears that misinformation surrounding the strategy, which council officials have stressed is “all about local living”, are now ‘gaining enough traction to be dangerous’.
Edinburgh City Council has updated information available to the public in a bid to dispel the myths, which include claims people’s movements will be restricted and they could be fined for driving out of their local area.
One councillor even suggested re-naming the scheme “Live Like a Leither” reflecting that the community there is a “traditional 20-minute neighbourhood” as the issue was debated at the Culture and Communities Committee on Thursday, August 10.
Another asked council officers to confirm if number plate recognition cameras were being installed to start charging motorists for leaving their neighbourhood, and was assured this was not the case.
Transport and environment convener Councillor Scott Arthur remarked that “conspiracy theories like this are laughable,” adding: “We live in Edinburgh not George Orwell’s 1984.”
A report said: “The 20-minute neighbourhood concept is about giving people the choice to access more services and facilities in their local area, it is not about restricting anyone from getting to or from other parts of the city. ”
Speaking at the meeting this week, Alex Staniforth, Greens, said “wild conspiracy theories” were “gaining I think enough traction to be dangerous”.
He said these were often tied to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Low Emission Zones “as though they are all one vast conspiracy to force everyone to need a pass to leave their street, which is of course absolute errant nonsense”.
SNP councillor Amy McNeese-Mechan said: “Coming from one of the best parts of the city which already has a traditional 20-minute neighbourhood, maybe we could call it ‘Live Like a Leither’.”
The council’s head of placemaking and mobility Daisy Narayanan said: “It tends to be that the 20-minute neighbourhood conversation focuses on transport, but actually this is very much about services and making it easier for everyone to access them.
“Change is difficult and sometimes a lot of genuine concerns that people have tend to get lost in these conspiracy theories that are doing the rounds.”
Conservative councillor Marie-Clair Munro said all residents’ opinions “regardless of their views” should be taken on board.
She said: “I think what a lot of people in the city are worried about with a 20-minute neighbourhood is they are going to have their movements restricted.
“There will be residents watching this, there will be residents reading the newspapers saying ‘am I able to get into my car in my neighbourhood that’s now a 20-minute neighbourhood and move around it if I wish?’.
“A lot of people have said to me ‘if I move about in my neighbourhood or I go to a different neighbourhood, is there going to be a number plate recognition that’s going to say I’ve come out my neighbourhood? Will it be in the future that I will be charged to go out of my neighbourhood?’ and I think that’s what causing nervousness across Edinburgh.”
Cllr Munro asked officers to confirm if number plate cameras were being installed as part of the 20-minute neighbourhood strategy.
Ms Narayanan replied: “We don’t have the legislation to use number plate technology first of all, and there is no intention of, as you read sometimes on social media, that people will be limited to where they can travel – that is not the case at all. The word 20-minute is all about local living.”
Cllr Arthur said: “The 20 minute neighbourhoods the council is consulting on are about ensuring that people have more of the day-to-day services and shops they need close to where they live.
“In so many ways they will be liberating, and will hopefully help recreate the kind of communities we had a few decades ago. It is nonsense to suggest that they will come with any restrictions on where people can go, or that residents will be tracked or even fined for leaving their community.
“Conspiracy theories like this are laughable, we live in Edinburgh not George Orwell’s 1984.”