Government writes to councils after only five apply for money from electric vehicle infrastructure funding pot, leaving more than £4.5m still available
The government has urged councils across the UK to make the most of a funding pot for electric vehicle charge points after an "extremely disappointing" take up.
Only five councils have applied for money from the On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme over the past 12 months, the government revealed today.
The Department for Transport (DfT) launched the scheme in December 2016, with £1.5m available to help local authorities with the costs of new electric vehicle infrastructure. A further £4.5m was added to the pot in November 2017.
Councils can apply for money to cover up to 75 per cent of the costs of buying and installing either entirely new charge points, up to £7,500 per chargepoint, or funding other systems such as adapting existing street lampposts to enable car charging.
However, only a handful of authorities have come forward for funding that could potentially help fund "thousands" of extra charge points and encourage the wider uptake of electric vehicles across the country, the government said.
Switching to electric road transport could help reduce carbon emissions as well as tackling air quality, but the lack of interest in the funding scheme meant "people up and down the country are being denied the opportunity to take advantage of the technology", the Ministers warned in a letter to council leaders.
The funding scheme was set up because, while householders with garages or driveways can install their own EV chargepoints, around a third of homes in England do not have off-street parking, making it much harder for these residents to charge overnight.
But of the five councils lodging funding applications - Portsmouth, Kensington & Chelsea, Cambridge, Luton and Kettering - only the first two have so far been given the green light for funding, accounting for around 110 charge points and roughly £150,000 funding from the pot, according to the DfT.
The government's letter, from climate change and industry minister Claire Perry and transport minister Jesse Norman, urged councils to consider applying to the funding scheme.
"We are in the early stages of an electric revolution in the UK transport sector, and connectivity is at its heart," said Norman in a statement. "Millions of homes in the UK do not have off-street parking, so this funding is important to help local councils ensure that all their residents can take advantage of this revolution."
But the Local Government Association's (LGA) transport spokesman Martin Tett hit back against the government, stressing that while councils were keen to support EV uptake, they alone shouldn't have to take on the role of replacing petrol stations.
Tett, a Buckinghamshire county councillor, explained that councils are faced with numerous competing priorities and have endured significant budget cuts over the past decade. With that in mind, more detail was needed on a "long-term properly funded plan" for EV infrastructure rollout, he said. "Any new responsibilities to ensure there is sufficient electric car charging infrastructure must be matched with adequate funding," said Tett. "Long term this must be a role for the private sector."
There is a growing need for charging infrastructure to support the rising number of EVs on the roads, with sales of electric vehicles in the UK surging by 35 per cent in 2017 as diesel car sales continue to plummet.
The private sector has ramped up investment in charging infrastructure to respond to growing demand. The UK's largest EV charging network, POLAR, yesterday said it had added 700 new charging points to its UK network last year, representing 43 per cent of the total installed in the UK in 2017. Around 200 of these were rapid chargers, it explained, of which around 80 per cent were supplied free of charge, representing private investment of more than £1.2m.
David Martell, chief executive of EV infrastructure firm Chargemaster - which operates the POLAR network - said the company also planned to add more than 1,400 charge points to its network in 2018. "We already have 40,000 users and POLAR will maintain its position as the national network of choice for EV drivers in the UK," he said.
Indeed, EV chargepoints also represent a burgeoning business opportunity, with Dutch chargepoint firm Fastned today announcing strong year-on-year growth during the final quarter of 2017, boosting its revenue by over €170,000 - 110 per cent - over the period.
Yet fears remain that the rollout of chargepoints is still not happening nearly quick enough to keep up with the growing number of EVs, with some commentators even suggesting this could lead to 'charge rage' disputes as drivers compete over limited public spots to power up their cars.
Matthew Trevaskis, head of electric vehicles at the Renewable Energy Association (REA), described creating a mass market for EVs as a "chicken and egg scenario". "Prices for new electric cars are falling and widespread uptake will bring benefits for the UK and consumers, but a viable charging infrastructure needs to be in place for them to really become commonplace across the country," he said.
Trevaskis added that local authorities therefore have a crucial role to play in the UK shift to low emission road transport, but stressed that they should be going much further than just using central government funding schemes. For example, he explained that under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 councils have the power to compel developers to build EV charge units on their properties, alongside other measures such as requirements for buildings to self-generate a portion of their own power through onsite renewables.
"On-street charging, which this funding targets, is also just one portion of the larger picture," said Trevaskis. "Local authorities need to be thinking about a rapid expansion of charging facilities at workplaces, at supermarkets, along major roadways and in other retail spaces to offer other alternatives for those without off-street parking."
The LGA's Tett insists some councils are already making use of such powers to drive change through the planning system. "Councils are keen to embrace emerging transport technology for the benefits of their residents and communities, with some councils working through the planning system to ensure developers fund charging points," he said.
With years of austerity having squeezed council budgets across the UK, that there have not been more taking up the chance to apply for that rare thing - central government funding - seems somewhat surprising. Not least because encouraging EV uptake has so many benefits, by helping to grow the green economy, slash emissions and improve local health and wellbeing.
Yet clearly councils are under significant pressure, struggling to juggle infrastructure demands with other responsibilities such as social care and education. Whether government letters to councils extolling the virtues of the latest EV chargepoint funding pot manages to induces more applications for funding remains to be seen, but clearly there is a systemic need for improving the UK's EV infrastructure. The UK will be reliant on central government, local councils and the private sector working together to make this happen.
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