The theory behind 15-minute cities is that necessary amenities, like work, shopping, education, healthcare, and leisure are all within walking distance of a person’s house.
However, there is a view among some libertarian and right-wing commentators that it is ultimately a plot to stop people from leaving their neighbourhood, and will ultimately leave people divided into disparate districts.
In his speech to the Tory party conference, Mr Harper said he was “calling time on the misuse of so-called 15-minute cities.”
“There’s nothing wrong with making sure people can walk or cycle to the shops or school, that’s traditional town planning.”
He added: “But what is different, what is sinister and what we shouldn’t tolerate is the idea that local councils can decide how often you go to the shops, and that they ration who uses the road and when, and they police it all with CCTV.”
In an interview with the BBC’s PM, Mr Bowie was repeatedly asked to name any council trying to decide how often people could go to the shops.
He was unable to do so.
He said: “There are proposals out there for 15-minute communities, 15-minute cities, and I think people are worried that this is an infringement on their liberties, on their freedoms, on their ability to choose where they go to access services, to access what they need, be that shops, etc, and all the rest of it.
“And we do not want local authorities dictating to people that they must choose to have access to services within 15 minutes of their house, or however often they might need to access those services. That’s what Mark Harper was saying today.”
When it was pointed out that nobody was proposing that, so why make the argument, Mr Bowie said people were “concerned their liberties are going to be infringed.”
When it was put to him that was because the government was sharing conspiracy theories, he replied: “Absolute nonsense.”
Mr Bowie added: “I mean, these are proposals we’re seeing from local authorities up and down the country to create 15-minute neighbourhoods and communities and whilst we support the access of services at a very local level, easily accessible by as many people as possible in their local area, what we don’t want it local authorities moving down the route, which could happen, of them dictating to people where they must access services.”
“That is what Mark Harper was saying today,” he added. “And that is what we’re acting against. And I think it’s important if people are concerned about these things, that we address those concerns. And that’s what we did.”
He said this was “coming up in discussions on doorsteps up and down the country” and “coming up in discussions on forums online.”
“And if people are concerned about it, we need to address those concerns. And that’s what Mark Harper said we’re doing today.”
Responding to the Transport Secretary’s speech, Labour’s Chris Bryant said Mr Harper was “at the saner end of the Tory party yet he comes up with this patent nonsense.”
“Straw men everywhere,” he added.