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Oxford Councillors receive death threats over false rumours of “climate lockdown”

Oxfordshire County Councillors have received online abuse and death threats following false rumours of a ‘climate lockdown’ circulated following the approval of six new traffic filters.

Duncan Enright, Oxfordshire County Councillor and cabinet member for travel and development strategy told the BBC he has been left feeling “bruised” and “cautious” after receiving death threats.

After staff at both councils received threats online and over the phone, Oxfordshire County Council released a joint statement with Oxford City Council saying they are “taking appropriate steps to provide staff and councillors with support” while working with the Thames Valley Police to address “the most extreme abuse”. They attribute the abuse to “inaccurate information” spreading online about the recently approved traffic filters.

One article, published online at the end of November and subsequently fact checked by Reuters as false, claimed the Oxfordshire County Council had approved plans for a ‘climate lockdown’ where residents would be locked into one of six zones and prevented from leaving or travelling between zones without Council permission. According to Reuters this article has been shared thousands of times.

Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council have endeavoured to “set the record straight” in their joint statement, where they note that online misinformation links the traffic filters with proposals to develop ‘15-minute neighbourhoods’ and incorrectly suggests the traffic filters will trap residents in their neighbourhoods. In reality, all areas of Oxford will still be accessible by car with the traffic filters (requiring at most a detour to the ring road) and the 15-minute neighbourhood proposals “aim to support and add services, not restrict them”, with a focus on bringing shops, healthcare and parks within easy walking distance of local neighbourhoods.

The traffic filters, approved by the County Council’s cabinet at the end of November and due to come into force in 2024, constitute a £6.5 million trial scheme aiming to divert traffic from congested roads at peak times. The County Council claims that the traffic filters will make walking and cycling safer and free up bus routes, as well as tackling climate change and air pollution. At each traffic filter, a camera will monitor licence plates and if a private car passes through the filter between 7am and 7pm (excluding weekends for some filters) they will be fined £70. Oxford residents can apply for a permit allowing them to pass the filters up to 100 days a year, and there will be a variety of exemptions for blue badge holders, care workers, businesses and others. The filters have no effect on buses, bicycles, or pedestrians and are apparently expected to generate about £1.1 million in fines.

The traffic filters have faced their share of legitimate opposition, with over 3,400 people signing a petition against two of the filters in particular and a further 1,700 people expressing fears that Botley Road will be overwhelmed by traffic if the Council does not reconsider. According to the BBC Liam Walker, shadow cabinet member for highways, is worried the plans will cost residents and impact businesses.

Before approving the traffic filters, Oxfordshire County Council carried out a public consultation on the proposal from 5th September to 13th October which had 5,700 respondents. The results of the consultation were then analysed and summarised by an independent research company and used to update the proposals and inform the County Council cabinet meeting on 29th November where the filters were approved.

Reflecting on the threats he has received, Councillor Enright told the BBC that he thought he had been “built up into some huge monster” and protested he is “not a lizard … [and] not a person from another planet who is trying to take over people’s lives”.

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