Leading the charge

Councils have a role to play in providing infrastructure for the transition to electric vehicles.

With the end of sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, there is significant work to do to ensure that the UK keeps moving. 

Providing enough charge points, in the right places, is a challenge that is likely to involve local government.

National government has come under increasing pressure in recent months over the speed of the rollout of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, with the Competitions and Markets Authority concluding that it’s a postcode lottery as to whether charge points will appear in your area.

As part of wider transport and decarbonisation strategies, most local authorities have become involved in the delivery of at least some EV charge points. The real question is what role they will play in the future rollout.

Various types of EV charging infrastructure will be needed, including home/workplace chargers, rapid chargers on key transport routes, taxi charging infrastructure and destination chargers. 

The overwhelming majority of this infrastructure is likely to be provided by individuals or businesses to support their own activities. Issues arise when either grid or land is not available – and this occurs particularly for households that own a vehicle, but do not have access to off-street parking.

Central government support to local authorities is focused on on-street charging infrastructure, through capital grant funding and access to support from the Energy Savings Trust. There is ongoing concern from government, however, about the speed of deployment.

Our research with local authorities, commissioned by the LGA, revealed several issues that need to be addressed if they are to take a more proactive role in delivery of on-street charge points. 

Overwhelmingly, councils felt that strategic direction was lacking at a national level, with no clear targets and no defined role for local authorities. 

Significant concerns were also expressed in relation to the level of funding provided – in particular, the need for ongoing revenue funding – and resources to deliver the schemes.

Providers of commercial EV charging infrastructure are focusing on the most lucrative sites. These are largely the rapid chargers on major infrastructure routes. 

In some areas, local authorities reported poor or low responses to tenders put out to market. Where concessions are being offered, the providers are pushing for long-term arrangements – and, in some instances, exclusivity.

In addition to these national issues, some areas are blighted by significant grid-connection costs, meaning it is expensive and difficult to deliver schemes, deterring private sector operators and making schemes increasingly difficult for local authorities to deliver.

Significant work needs to be done if the UK is to achieve its ambitious targets. In the provision of charging infrastructure, it is also crucial that we remember the need to travel fewer car miles, reduce overall travel and migrate to active travel and shared transport. In addition, vehicles need to be appropriately sized if we are not to see the existing trend of increasingly larger vehicles offsetting the benefits of energy efficiency.

Whether your authority is acting on this agenda or not, we need to be clear that electric cars are coming, and we should all be considering how – and how much – we travel, and how quickly we can transition to low-carbon alternatives. The time to act is now.

For ‘Scoping the role of local authorities in the provision of electric vehicle charging infrastructure’, see www.local.gov.uk/publications/scoping-role-local-authorities-EV. Local Partnerships is jointly owned by the LGA, HM Treasury and the Welsh Government, see www.localpartnerships.org.uk.

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