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Fact Check-Oxfordshire County Council to trial congestion-reducing traffic filters, not a ‘climate lockdown’ that stops residents leaving neighbourhoods

An article being shared widely online is falsely claiming that a local council in England will trial climate lockdowns from 2024. It says the move would prevent residents from leaving their neighbourhoods without permission from authorities.

The Nov. 30 article, published by Vision News, a self-described independent news outlet (here, archived archive.md/PTxp7), is headlined: “Oxfordshire County Council Pass Climate Lockdown 'trial' to Begin in 2024.”

It claims the council has approved plans “to lock residents into one of six zones” in Oxford to combat global warming, and that electronic gates will be built “on key roads in and out of the city” to keep people confined.

Anyone wishing to leave their zone “will need permission from the council”, which decides “who is worthy of freedom and who isn’t,” the report adds.

“Councils get to dictate how many times per year you can see friends and family,” the article continues. “You will be stopped from fraternising with anyone outside your district, and if you want a long distance relationship in the future, forget it, you are confined to dating only those within a 15 minute walk of your house.”

Facebook (here, here and here) and Twitter (here and here) posts including extracts and claims from the article have together been shared thousands of times, while videos discussing it have amassed tens of thousands of views (here and here), the latter of which was posted on an Australian news outlet’s verified Facebook page and website (here).

In a series of emails exchanged with Reuters, a spokesperson for Oxfordshire County Council said the Vision News article had misrepresented its traffic filter initiative, which has been part of Oxford’s Transport Strategy since 2015 and aims to tackle traffic congestion and reduce pollution.

Six traffic filters are set to be tested for a minimum of six months around Oxford city from 2024 (here). This means that between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. private cars will need a permit to get through.

Drivers using the filters who do not have a permit, or are not exempt, will face a penalty charge notice of £35, which will increase to £70 if it is not paid within two weeks.

“Everywhere in the city will still be accessible by car, although some private car drivers may need to use a different route during the operating hours of the traffic filters,” the spokesperson said.

“Everyone, wherever they live, will still be able to drive to and from any destination in Oxford, or anywhere else, anytime they like, as often as they like.”

The spokesperson added: “None of the traffic filters will ‘trap’ residents. As you can see from this zoomable map (here), traffic filters are points on a road, not a ‘zone’. So, residents living on roads near the filters will be able to enter and leave through other roads at any time, without using a permit. Everyone can enter and leave their street in at least one direction without going through a filter.”

PERMITS

Everyone who lives in the city of Oxford permit area (OPA), where the filters are to be located, will be eligible for one free, 100-day permit a year, which will mean “unlimited travel through any of the six filters for the whole day” on up to 100 days per year. Each household will be eligible for a maximum of three permits.

Residents living outside the OPA but within Oxfordshire will be eligible for a permit to drive through the filters “on up to 25 days a year”.

Exemptions apply to emergency vehicles, blue badge holders, health workers, professional and non-professional care workers, and people requiring frequent hospital treatments.

‘ELECTRONIC GATES’

According to the Oxfordshire Council spokesperson, the filters will only use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to log traffic, “not electronic gates or any other physical barriers”.

“Traffic filters are designed to reduce traffic levels across the city, making bus journeys quicker and more reliable and walking and cycling safer and more attractive,” the spokesperson said. “Traffic filters are not designed to stop people from driving private vehicles.”

More information can be found here and here.

VERDICT

Misrepresentation. Oxfordshire County Council is not planning a climate lockdown trial in 2024. It is testing traffic filter technology in the city to tackle congestion and pollution.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.

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