UK local authorities hamstrung by legislative gaps – Recharge UK
A new paradigm is needed to get better-resourced municipal bodies working more efficiently with industry stakeholders
Outdated regulations being applied to charge point operators (CPOs) as they try to build out the UK’s EV charging infrastructure are in urgent need of modernisation, warns the author of a recent report on the country’s progress. And the role that local authorities can and must play should be a particular focus of a more fit-for-purpose framework.
“Some of the regulations that CPOs have to go by are things made and designed in the 70s or 80s, and at that time nothing like a charge point existed, or even really an electric car,” says Matthew Adams, transport policy manager for Recharge UK — an EV branch of the association for renewable energy and clean technology (REA) — who is the primary author of the report. “There does need to be some consideration of how we modernise regulations to make charge point deployment much easier, especially if we want to hit the sort of 300,000 charging station target that the government has set for 2030.”
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Adams’ report suggests government resources will have to play a key role in overcoming obstacles to developing this infrastructure. Namely, Recharge UK suggests utilising part of the local electric vehicle infrastructure (Levi) fund, which currently stands at £480mn, to provide more support for local authorities.
“Having spoken to some of the devolved transport authorities since publishing the report, I do understand that some of the smaller local authorities in particular find it quite difficult to actually get the staff they need,” says Adams. “A lot of people then move on to the private sector quite quickly. So, they will invest in the training etc. and then they will go off somewhere else.”
Recharge UK argues that by making local authority jobs “more attractive”, incentivising staff with more money and potentially better job security, the nationwide installation of charging points could be significantly more efficient.
Another key element of a more efficient process is better collaboration between fleet operators and local authorities. According to Adams’ report, vans will have the “largest public charging energy demand by vehicle type by 2030”. His report found, though, that the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association saw that “only 3pc of local authorities engaged with fleets” in Q4’22.
Evidently, there is a disconnect between the two sectors. Recharge UK suggests introducing a more formal policy framework — as has worked in other specialist areas of the charging landscape — could be beneficial. “There is already a standard for wheelchair accessibility, PAS 1899,” Adams explains, “and [local authorities] find that really useful, because suddenly they can build charging infrastructure that actually enables wheelchair users and disabled drivers to access charging.”
“For a lot of fleet operators they will try to pinpoint already some public charge points that their fleets can usen route or have their own charging bays. But if they are on the road, for last mile deliveries, things like local priority car parks would be an ideal place for them.”
Another roadblock to building out infrastructure in collaboration with local authorities is bureaucracy. One potentially increasing friction is the Section 50 application process, legislation for installing apparatus on the public highway that dates back to the early 1990s and — while EV chargers almost always get approval — creates another hoop, including a ten-page application form, to jump through.
“They are going to be inundated with Section 50 requests over the next 10 years as the charge for rollout increases, so they are going to have to make a choice,” says Adams. “Unfortunately, they either have to make a decision to get more staff in to process the requests as quickly as they are now or quicker… or exclude EV [chargers] from Section 50s.”
But it not all doom and gloom. Many local authorities are already taking their role in EV charging infrastructure seriously — “50pc of them have their own charging plans already,” says Adams, with his report citing Coventry in particular as an exemplar.
“I think in general it is clear that local authorities are ready for it,” he says. “But it is moving the other 50pc on board as well.”