Central planning from government in rolling out high speed electric vehicle charging infrastructure is “absolutely vital” to ensuring the UK is ready for the surge in EV ownership, a group of MPs has been told.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee heard last week from representatives of Nissan, BMW, Toyota and battery manufacturer BYD.

They claimed that Westminster will need to take on a more active role in ensuring that charging infrastructure is included in national planning rules across housing and commercial properties, as well as public highways.

Telling MPs that “central planning is essential”, Ian Robertson, member of the board of management at BMW, said: “It would be good in town planning and it would be good in the development of new houses to put some of the infrastructure into the regulations, so that when streets are put up in future they have charging infrastructure; when houses are built in the future, they have charging points in them. That makes the difference.”

Gareth Dunsmore, electric vehicle director for Nissan Europe, agreed saying that central planning would be an “absolutely vital” element to create a road map for the future of EVs and allow market forces to eventually take over.

“Having a road map of both highway infrastructure, house legislation and office legislation [could] support businesses and facilitate businesses and economies of scale to take over, invest in the infrastructure that is needed and to generate money off it and to support new business opportunities,” he explained.

Aside from plans by Highways England, as part of a road investment strategy, to roll-out EV chargers on major A-roads by 2020, central government has put forward very little in plans for deploying EV infrastructure.

There is no duty on local authorities to provide electric charging points however many are now including such measures in their local planning requirements. In London for example developments in all parts of the city must ensure that 20% of parking spaces (both active and passive) provide an electrical charging point to encourage the uptake of EVs.

The government has yet to replicate such measures, instead leaving the decision up to local planners.

Dunsmore claimed that if such rules were replicated nationwide, it would help to promote EVs to the wider public and support other national policies, such as the proposed 2040 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles.

“If we can get to a space where, wherever you park, whenever you are just leaving your car and it is not doing anything, you start to see charging infrastructure around you, it starts to be normalised,” he said.

“Then the discussion in 2040 of whether it is a challenge to move to electrification and [the] technology that might be needed might be a moot point, because customer demand will start to take over, because the chicken-and-egg issue of infrastructure versus the product and whether to move disappears.”

Much debate over the 2040 ban has been carried out since its announcement, particularly with Scotland bringing in its own target of 2032. While National Grid has come out in favour of a 2030 ban, while the Energy Networks Association and Ofgem have said this would not be a problem for them, all agreed that consumer trends would drive EV penetration levels – with the provision of charging infrastructure playing an important role in facilitating this demand.

However there appears to be little forthcoming from government to do this through the planning system. However, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, currently being discussed within the House of Lords, does set out how regulations may impose requirements on large fuel retailers and service area operators to provide public charging points.

Where progress has been made, according to Dunsmore, is with funding to local areas, such as the Go Ultra Low Cities initiative which he cited as an example of “where we have got it right in Britain”.

In January 2016, £35 million was awarded to London, Milton Keynes, Bristol and Nottingham to implement a range of schemes designed to boost EV take-up in those cities, with another £5 million of development funding for specific initiatives in Dundee, Oxford, York and north east regions.

“There is the Go Ultra Low activity in the four cities across the UK, where we have put in investment, from a government perspective, and the cities have taken that on to build a holistic ecosystem of activity… to try to incentivise people in those cities to move towards electrification. That needs to be repeated and we can continue to use that best practice,” Dunsmore said.

While similar funding has not been suggested, the Department for Transport’s Road to Zero Strategy is expected to lay out more measures for the coming years – it is not yet known if planning considerations are to be included.

Meanwhile, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority is preparing its search for a private fund manager to raise £200 million in support of its electric vehicle charging infrastructure fund announced as part of November 2017’s Budget.

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