ANDREW Bowie has been condemned for spreading a conspiracy theory around 15 minute cities during a car crash radio interview.

The Scottish Tory MP and junior minister defended Transport Secretary Mark Harper’s bid to crackdown on “sinister” 15-minute cities at the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

The concept of 15-minute cities is based on having shops, services and workplaces within a short walk or bicycle ride from people’s homes.

However, it has become linked to a conspiracy theory claiming that the urban planning scheme is part of a ploy to control the public and restrict civil liberties.

READ MORE: Andrew Bowie has failed Aberdeenshire communities

Bowie, minister for nuclear and networks, repeated the claim that 15-minute cities are part of a bid for local authorities to “dictate” to people which services they should use during an interview on Radio 4.

Senior SNP figures criticised the West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP for sharing the conspiracy theory.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on Monday evening, Bowie said of the proposals for 15-minute cities: “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 etcetera and all the rest of it, we do not want local authorities dictating to people that they must choose to access those 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.

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“Of course we want more services to be available locally and closer to where people live.”

Bowie added that Tories support accessing services as locally as possible but again said that people should not be “dictated” to.

BBC journalist Evan Davis pointed out that Bowie's defending of the policy gets to the heart of how the Tory party is currently “positioning itself”.

“Nobody is proposing that they’ll dictate whether you have to go within 15 minutes, they’re saying wouldn’t it be nice if you could get to a shop within 15 minutes,” he said.

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“You’re not disagreeing with that, Labour are not disagreeing with that, there’s no argument over that, no-one is saying you have to go to a shop on a Tuesday morning and your shift is this and you can’t go to that one, that's just not on the agenda.

“So I suppose, why make the argument? Pretend there’s an argument about somebody dictating how often you can go to the shop…”

Bowie again claimed that some people are concerned their “liberties are going to be infringed”.

Davis interrupted to call out the minister, adding: “Because you're making them concerned, you’re spreading conspiracy theories aren’t you?”

Bowie claimed that was “absolute nonsense” and again repeated the claim that the Tories don’t want local government to go down the route of “dictating to people where they must access services”.

“That is what Mark Harper was saying today and that’s what we’re actually against,” he added.

“I think it's important if people are concerned about these things that we address those concerns and that’s what we did, that’s what a responsible government, working in the national interest, should do.”

Davis pointed out that a responsible government shouldn’t “make people concerned about things that they have absolutely no reason to be fearful of”.

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To which Bowie insisted that the issue was coming up on “doorsteps up and down the country”.

“It’s coming up in discussions on forums online and if people are concerned about, we need to address those concerns, and that’s what Mark Harper said we’re doing today,” Bowie added.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn was among those to criticise Bowie’s comments. Writing on Twitter/X, he said: “Lots of naysayers online, but in the years to come we’ll all be thankful for having been saved from these woke councils and their sinister shopping habit ideologies.”

Meanwhile, Màiri McAllan (below), Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, said simply: “Post-truth.”

The National: Mairi McAllan

And author Phillip Pullman added: “This is how fascism spreads. Tell lies, repeat them over and over, make people fearful of something that doesn't exist, and then claim that you are the only way of preventing these non-existent horrors. Sickening that politicians should behave like this.”

On Monday, Harper told the Tory party conference he was “calling time on the misuse” of 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 said.

“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.”