THERE is a sinister plot afoot in the shadowy socialist cabals that secretly manipulate our governments: they want to make it easier to buy milk.

Down, down with this sort of thing. In the wild recesses of social media, it was decided that 15 minute cities were a bad thing, a way of restricting the civil liberties of right-thinking citizens and restraining them in permanent lockdown, not allowed to wander more than 15 minutes from home without a permit.

The usual suspects have bought into this nonsense. Neil Oliver warned thus: "They advertise a world of electric cars but what we’ll end up buying is lives lived on foot within fifteen minutes of our homes.” How depressing his community must be to be so sad at the thought of being tied to it. Imagine being stuck always 15 minutes from him. 

In the House of Commons MPs chortled openly as their colleague Nick Fletcher, Tory member for Don Valley, described 15 minute cities as a “socialist concept” that comes at the “cost our personal freedom”. Sheffield was already in on it, too late to save them, but don't let Doncaster be next.

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His particular disgruntlement seemed to be at the proximity of shops. You might like to think a politician would be well up for ample local amenities for his constituents but apparently local shops are a bad thing. He only knows why.

Now the conspiracy theory has been brought into the light it has caused much blinking at its absurdity. I miss the days of yearning after Fox Mulder and his need to believe. We were only worried about aliens, which feels quite innocent now.

I read comments online about the 15 minute city conspiracy – closely linked to anti-vaxxers and anti-covid lockdown theorists - and it makes me laugh, heartily.

I feel very lucky to live somewhere that is already a well-established 15 minute neighbourhood by pure chance. I think of the ease of walking a short distance to my ballet class and to museum and art spaces; to the glorious park at the end of the high street; the high street itself with – gasp – shops. There's GPs, dentists, a hospital, want for nothing.

John Betjeman styled the suburbs as "home of the gnome and the average citizen" but we have fewer front gardens in Glasgow for gnomes to be a universal signifier. Fairy lights seem a popular choice round here. There's a garden near me festooned with multi-coloured buoys and Kisby rings, which lights up at night. It's pretty beautiful.

Govanhill, the land of twinkles and the multinational citizen. I can't imagine why you would hate to have everything you need on your doorstep.

But then I am laughing at someone's genuinely held fear and it feels inappropriate to mock that, no matter how outrageous it might be. You don't win people round with scorn or sarcasm.

It's tough to approach with empathy, this one, though. It's magnificent in its lunacy, it has an extravagant quality to it: it's a campaign to have fewer amenities that are harder to get to. I'm going to need a hard sell to get on board with that.

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The idea of 15 minute neighbourhoods has been around for a while – it's the planning and design concept of having practical, health and leisure facilities within a 15 minute walking or cycling distance of your front door. Part of the unease for those against this stems from the introduction of more bike lanes and active travel spaces, at pace, during the pandemic – they are indelibly linked, for some people, with covid lockdown.

In Scotland we're using the phrase 20 minute neighbourhoods – plans for the setting up of these districts were approved by the Scottish Parliament in early January and there should be a push to implement them. Anyone who's lived in a suburban area with few transport links and no car can easily see the benefits of not spending dead hours every week wasted on trying to procure the basics.

The Herald: In Scotland, plans for 20 minute neighbourhoods were approved by the Scottish Parliament in early JanuaryIn Scotland, plans for 20 minute neighbourhoods were approved by the Scottish Parliament in early January (Image: Newsquest)

The worry is that the anti-15 minute city conspiracy spreads but, not only spreads, is also conflated with the plans for low emissions zones, as has happened in Oxford. There's some really batty takes going around on the plans to repurpose roads in Oxford for active travel and focus on local neighbourhoods.

One headline talked of erecting gates to close off streets and requiring people to have permission and a pass to leave. That's plainly bananas but these things take hold.

Glasgow, like Bristol, Birmingham and Oxford, has low emissions schemes in place and Newcastle and Manchester are planning theirs. In August London's ultra low emission zone (Ulez) expansion is to go ahead, following the success of the initial inner-London scheme.

There are protests planned in Trafalgar Square by people opposed to the scheme. It will see hundreds of thousands of people suddenly owning non-compliant vehicles they will need to pay £12.50 a day to keep using, or buy a new one.

The inner London Ulez has been an unarguable success in cleaning the air and improving the environment but it's easier to adapt to in the heart of the city with its robust public transport system.

The people with concerns are out in the suburbs with the gnomes where cars make life easier and, sometimes, possible for those who, for example, are shift workers.

Glasgow's LEZ will likely meet resistance and will need close scrutiny as it inches closer. The problem comes back, time and again, to adequate public transport. You can't, without a fight, remove people's access to private cars unless there are credible alternatives.

It won't help to undermine or scoff at people's concerns. "Legitimate concerns" has become a toxic phrase but sometimes there are legitimate concerns.

I walked home from the movies the other night. It takes about 35/40 minutes. "You're brave," my friend said. I thought she meant the weather. "Oh, it's only drizzling."

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No, she meant the safety aspect of the walk. She had driven to town and parked the car right across from the cinema because she was worried about walking around in the evening. Safety, accessibility, these are reasonable things.

There is also pushback when anything environmentally sound questions reliance on two fundamental favourites: cars and meat. Who wants to be a cycling vegan? In this case, it is, of course, car ownership that's in question and people are vehemently protective of their cars and their perceived right to drive, no matter the environmental damage.

In part it's about convenience and state interference but the idea that reversing decades of near-fatal climate damage can be done without any inconvenience or pain or government co-ordination is exactly the attitude that caused our mess in the first place.

The fix is finding ways of persuading people of the benefits of short term pain for long term gain and those ways don't include mockery, no matter how tempting.