An emerging ‘15-minute city’ in east London

06 September 2022

by Sarah Wray

The London Borough of Newham is aiming to transform some of its most deprived areas through the creation of ’15-minute neighbourhoods’ – where people can access all basic needs within walking or cycling distance from their homes.

This includes housing, grocery shops, childcare, schools, healthcare facilities, public open spaces, recreation, and frequent, affordable public transport.

The 15-minute city concept was developed by Carlos Moreno, Professor at the Sorbonne University and Mayor of Paris’ special envoy for smart cities. Versions of it have been adopted by cities such as Paris, Shanghai, Melbourne and Bogota as well as several London boroughs, and the idea has gained further traction following the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have a unique core strategic objective to create a local economy which places the livelihood, wellbeing and happiness of our residents’ as prime measures of Newham’s economic success,” a spokesperson for Newham Council told Cities Today. “The [15-minute] concept links to our community wealth-building agenda, which focuses on supporting communities to create wealth and retain more of the benefits of economic growth emerging locally. It also supports our 50 Steps to our Healthier Newham health and wellbeing strategy.”

In October 2021, Newham was awarded nearly £40 million (US$46 million) through the government’s Levelling Up Fund for its Connection to Opportunities programme linked to the use of data and digital technologies and the 15-Minute Neighbourhoods scheme. This was the highest award out of the £65 million allocated to London councils.

Reviving high streets

Newham’s 15-minute strategy focuses initially on high streets located in the north of the borough and off Romford Road, stretching from Stratford to Little Ilford, including Forest Gate, Green Street, Plaistow and Manor Park, with 175,000 residents expected to benefit.

“These places have long been scarred by deprivation and suffered from a disproportionate impact of the pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

The number of residents in the 15-minute neighbourhood programme area claiming benefits rose sharply during the pandemic. It also has the highest particulate pollution in London, causing the highest number of child asthma hospital admissions.

The plan will be brought to life through interconnected projects to reactivate vacant council-owned buildings on high streets (Places for Community and Enterprise), boost green space (Shared Spaces), and improve cycling and walking infrastructure in and between neighbourhoods (Our Connected Neighbourhoods).

Projects are in their early stages but include low traffic neighbourhoods and school streets; community cafes, fitness centres and work spaces; public art; urban greening, and more.

According to the council, the programme is expected to deliver benefits of £170.64 million as well as other social advantages.

As part of the Shared Spaces regeneration project and the Connected Neighbourhoods initiative to develop an Active Travel Corridor along the busy Romford Road, Newham is working with technology company VivaCity to use sensors to monitor multimodal traffic flow.

The sensors will provide detailed, anonymous insights on road usage and behaviour including high street footfall and active travel data insights, which will be used to quantify and communicate return on investment.

Resident engagement

Community input has informed the 15-minute neighbourhood plans including via online and in-person events and social media. As well as engagement around specific interventions, during spring 2021 Newham residents were invited to vote on the issues they felt most important for consideration by the standing Citizen’s Assembly, with 15-minute neighbourhoods and greening the borough coming out on top.

However, local governments may want to think carefully about language. Newham’s spokesperson said: “The term [15-minute city/neighbourhood] is quite high level and conceptual. It hasn’t resonated well with residents, who are more likely to think in terms of what they call the place they live or where they do their local shopping, etc.”

All projects are due for completion by December 2024 and a Local Plan with more detailed timescales is due this autumn.

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