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Comment: The vital role of local authorities in supporting charging network expansion

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A new report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) suggests that at least 2.3 million additional charging points are required by 2030 to support the nationwide transition towards EVs. Alfonso Martinez, managing director of LeasePlan UK, calls for local authorities to play their part and outlines how they can reduce the bottlenecks faced by charge point operators.

Alfonso Martinez, managing director of LeasePlan UK

The evolution of the UK’s fuel network from the opening of the first roadside filling station in 1920 to the 8,000+ sites located across the country today is a useful analogy to draw from when we’re discussing the development of EV infrastructure. Watching the grainy, black-and-white YouTube clips of the early 20th century Aldermaston garage in action, you can’t help but feel the novelty and excitement of the moment. Nowadays though, you wouldn’t think twice about pulling into a petrol station and filling up your car. It’s so ingrained in our everyday life that it’s entirely unremarkable in every way.

It’s this sense of ‘not thinking twice’ that we need to keep sight of as we map out the expansion and improvement of the UK’s EV charging network. This is especially true on a local level. It’s here that drivers will see the tangible changes that influence their behaviour and lead them to go electric – whether it’s their neighbour charging their EV out on their driveway or fellow shoppers topping up their EV outside the local cinema. We need to normalise electric charging in every neighbourhood and public space, in a way that means that drivers no longer have to think about it.

This is why local authorities (LAs) play such a vital role in the roll-out of a convenient and comprehensive EV charging network. They have a unique insight into the rhythms and behaviours of their local population and are therefore well placed to tailor the infrastructure to meet these requirements.

While it’s true that most charging will be done at home or at the workplace, there are several significant gaps that need to be filled in order to serve the wider community, many of which will fall to the LA. For example, in inner-city areas where people are more likely to live in terraced housing or apartment blocks without access to driveways, on-street charging becomes a necessity – particularly now when so many more people are working from home.

Ownership of residential streets normally falls to the LA, as with municipal car parks, therefore in most cases they are the gatekeeper to new public infrastructure. Government funding such as the On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme is available to LAs, and it’s crucial that they take advantage of this.

We’re also behind the creation of dedicated ‘charging officer’ posts within the LA. Someone who can be a champion and source of knowledge for EVs and EV infrastructure within the council area. Not only would charge point teams plug the EV information gap that currently exists within certain LAs and reduce the bottlenecks faced by charge point operators, but local team advocates could help drum up support from the private sector. Equally as important, they’d filter all important information all the way down to the driver, helping to dispel the myths around range anxiety and suitability that currently pervade the EV market.

Of course, LA projects are just one part of the puzzle: the Government must hold up its end of the deal by continuing its support through incentives such as plug-in grants and subsidies. Withdrawal of this vital funding would only serve to undermine its messaging around decarbonisation and building back green post-pandemic, in a time when people are finally starting to wake up to the benefits of EVs. Swift and decisive progress requires strong leadership from the top; with effective and readily available consultancy resource from the government, LAs can manage the roll-out with greater confidence and support private companies and the public to do their part.

Just like in Aldermaston, history is unfolding before our very eyes. The future of driving is EV – that writing is already on the wall. But if we’re to enable as seamless a transition towards electric by 2030 without wasting a lot of money and disenfranchising a lot of people along the way through poor charging experiences, it’s essential that government and local authorities work together.

Collectively, we need to acknowledge that nine years is a very short time – in leasing terms, that’s just two leasing cycles. And demand will grow exponentially as we edge closer to the deadline, so early preparation is key.

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