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12/02/2021

Don’t take electric vehicle infrastructure for granted

Electric car / Shutterstock: 548313280

An all electric vehicle transport system is on the way, but Scotland is lagging behind in providing the necessary infrastructure, says Rory Alexander. The nation's planners need to push change

If ever we needed a reminder of the potential for electric vehicle (EV) adoption, news that energy giant EDF is preparing to float one of Britain's biggest providers of EV infrastructure on the stock market is evidence enough.

This is the first major commercial shift to come in this space since the UK Government banned the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030.

With hybrids banned from 2035, in just 14 years our automotive forecourts will be fossil fuel free.

Consider this: there are around 2.5 million cars owned in Scotland and new car sales in Scotland tend to be higher than 175,000 each year. Yet the ChargePlace Scotland network, our national EV charging network, has installed just 1,500 public chargepoints. That’s one chargepoint for every 1,600 cars. 

The maths alone makes mass electric vehicle adoption seem remote. It is a stark reminder of how important it is that we do not take the EV infrastructure we need for granted.

"With hybrids banned from 2035, in just 14 years our automotive forecourts will be fossil fuel free"

There are three important factors at play, which may determine whether Scotland gets this right.

The first is national planning policy. The Scottish Government is currently consulting on permitted development rights (PDR) which removes the need to obtain planning permission for certain types of development. The consultation recently moved into its second phase, and is now looking at electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

While councils already have in most cases the right to erect EV chargepoints that are built into existing street facilities like lampposts, the same is not true for EV chargepoint ‘stations’ – the modern-day equivalent of a petrol station. Should the Scottish Government reduce the administrative and resource burden on chargepoints by agreeing to this, it would certainly encourage others to invest in their installation.

The second issue is more local, and relates to how individual councils will facilitate swift, easy installation of new EV charging equipment. Edinburgh Council, for example, outlined some important planning issues in their Implementation Plan for EVs. These included ensuring compliance of charging infrastructure with Edinburgh street design guidance (for example, to maintain clear 'Footway Zones' and prevent street clutter); and locating charging equipment on the road rather than on the pavement, which is at odds with much of the UK. Any private business looking to install infrastructure would need to be well appraised of the proclivities of the local authority before spending any money.

"Any private business looking to install infrastructure would need to be well appraised of the proclivities of the local authority before spending any money"

The final issue is housing.

The most appealing place for EV infrastructure is at or near people’s homes. Housing developments are therefore vital cogs in this wheel and could be the key to unlocking far greater use of electric vehicles in the future. 

High level planning policy increasingly recognises the importance of considering EV charging infrastructure in new developments. One of the key opportunities identified in the Fourth National Planning Framework Position Statement issued by the Scottish Government in November 2020 is to remove the need for planning permission for active travel and electric vehicle charging points to ensure that the necessary new infrastructure can be rolled out widely and quickly.   

The Switched on Scotland Roadmap (pdf) outlined some time ago how important it would be to act in the early 2020s to make change happen. “Actions taken in the early market up to 2020,” it says, “will see increasing adoption of plug-in vehicles and establish foundations for long-term growth.”

We are in danger of falling behind. In the last five years, just 2,265 drivers have taken advantage of Transport Scotland’s electric vehicle loan scheme. That’s 0.25 per cent of the total population of new car buyers over that time frame.

Those three issues lie at the heart of change. National planning policy must assist us all in building more EV chargepoints. Housing developments must start introducing EV charging as standard, whether as collective, shared options or even attached to individual homes. And local authorities must be collaborative to facilitate the delivery of essential EV infrastructure.  

Radical and fast-paced change is needed if we are to meet our climate change obligations and genuinely become a world-leading example of a green economy, and a green society.  

Rory Alexander is planning and local government partner at independent Scottish law firm Morton Fraser and a legal associate of the RTPI

Photo | Shutterstock

 

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