The foundations of our democracy rely on truth and rational debate. When this disappears, the very foundations of our democracy are under threat.

It is with the greatest alarm, then, that I see this week at the Conservative Party conference a top government minister, from Gloucestershire, giving airtime around the idea that so-called “15-minute cities” are an attack on our liberties and freedoms.

For those who don’t know, 15-minute cities are an urban design principle about building more compact, walkable and cyclable communities where people are less reliant on cars. The idea is that you should be able to walk from where you live to get to all the things you need in life, from shops and schools to doctor surgeries and vets.

In early 2023 conspiracy theories around 15-minute cities started to circulate. These suggested that local councils were planning to use these to create “climate lockdowns”, forcing people to shop only near to their houses by putting in place roadblocks and CCTV operations. This is, of course, nonsense and has been shared by those following other conspiracy theories united in the idea that western governments wish to oppress their populations through 5G rollout, COVID vaccinations or worse.

In the past this Conservative government has played its part in debunking these myths with the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) saying that “15-minute cities aim to provide people with more choice about how and where they travel, not to restrict movement”.

In recent days, however, Gloucestershire MP and Transport Secretary Mark Harper has given airtime on a national stage at the Conservative Party conference to this dangerous far right conspiracy theory. “What is sinister, and what we shouldn’t tolerate,” said Harper, “is the idea that local councils can decide how often you go to the shops, and that they can ration who uses the roads and when, and that they police it all with CCTV.” Another Government Minister speaking on Radio 4 doubled down on this conspiracy theory when challenged on it.

This is dangerous. Not just because of the direct harm that comes from spreading these lies. But also because of the immeasurable damage it does to our democracy. I hope that our own Conservative MP, Siobhan Baillie, comes out clearly and unequivocally condemning this dangerous rhetoric.

I hope to see the back of this Conservative government at the next election, but I hope this comes through reasoned debate anchored in truth and honesty. My worry is that this government’s legacy is going to be one of scorched earth over the remains of the foundations of our democracy. It’s time to unite to protect our democratic foundations.

Cllr Steve Hynd (Green Party, The Stanleys