It is a pleasure to follow Lilian Greenwood, who, as ever, advanced cogent arguments in support of electric vehicles.
Last month the House agreed unanimously to set a target of 2050 for net zero carbon emissions. Concern was expressed in some sections of the press that the decision had been made “on the nod”, and that insufficient thought had been given to how it would be delivered and the economic consequences. I hope this debate will show how wrong that concern is. There is not only a political awareness of the steps necessary to deliver our commitment, but the political will to take those steps, even if they require difficult decisions.
One of the difficult decisions that we must take is to bring forward the date by which the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will end. That is supported by the Committee on Climate Change and, indeed, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, of which I am a member. I note that in addition to our call, similar requests have been made by four other Committees, which have cited the impact on health and air quality as well as the environment, and the need to support low- carbon industries. I am delighted that the Conservative Environment Network has joined those calls, asking for a 2035 target.
The price of electric vehicles is expected to reach parity with that of internal combustion engine-powered cars by the mid-2020s—not on some far-flung date in the future, but in just a couple of years. A little further down the line, in the 2030s, sales of electric vehicles are expected to overtake petrol and diesel sales. There are now more electric vehicle charging locations in the UK than petrol stations. Despite that milestone, however, the network is not fit for purpose, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend Mark Pawsey, and poor provision of charging infrastructure is one of the main barriers to the growth of the market.
As it said in its report last year, the BEIS Committee found that my region contained just 244 publicly funded charging points, which equates to nearly 29,000 people per point. Although that is substantially better than the ratio across the border in Wales, where there are 98,806 people per charging point, it pales in comparison with the ratio in the north-east, where the figure is fewer than 4,000 people. Those three regions, which stretch across the UK, demonstrate the serious risk that access to sufficient charging points will become a postcode lottery, with someone from Newcastle standing a far better chance of being able to charge an electric vehicle than someone from Newport, Newquay or Knutsford.
A visible and extensive network of ultra-fast chargers is not just good for existing electric vehicle owners. Our Committee heard evidence that
“The principle reason people are put off buying an EV, is no longer range anxiety, but the lack of a viable national/urban Rapid Charger infrastructure.”
We also need to think more carefully about how to standardise the infrastructure. If we are to develop an electric vehicle network that mirrors the advantages of petrol cars, we need to ensure that all EVs and charging points are inter-operable. That does not just mean that charging points need to charge all EVs; it means that data and information sharing must be standard as well.
I recognise that the passage of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 has empowered the Government to take the necessary steps, but, as the report states, they will require full use of the powers in the Act to deliver a network of this kind. That is why I am troubled that they have handed responsibility for the development of this vital national infrastructure to local authorities. That would not happen with HS2 or Crossrail. Local authorities have demonstrated that they have a big role to play in this project, but why do we expect them to deliver such a vital network with limited Government support and oversight?
I welcome the Government’s acceptance of our recommendation for planning guidance on the number of charging points installed in new buildings, which will help local authorities, but the Government need to recognise their responsibilities and take a lead in co-ordinating the financial and technical support that councils need to build charging infrastructure. Failing to do that will imperil the future of the entire electric vehicle sector.
Only yesterday, I received an email from a constituent about that very issue. He rightly pointed out:
“Given the importance of changing to electric cars in line with the Government’s climate change policy, I am amazed that building regulations only required the installation of a 16amp consumer unit in our detached garage which was built with our house only 18 months ago. This is insufficient to power a 7kw charger which requires a 32amp supply. As from July 1, in order to meet OLEV’s grant requirements a minimum of a 7kw charger must be installed—a 3.6kw/16amp charger is no longer allowed. Given the huge cost involved in increasing the amperage of a consumer box—i.e. cabling &
trenching etc.—this may well prove to be a deterrent to purchasing an electric car.”
Unless our regulations are forward-thinking and focused on the future, there will be a risk of each generation of electric vehicle adopters being left behind in just a matter of years, which would fracture the user base and deter new entrants. That is doubly true in rural areas such as my constituency. All too often, the latest and greatest technology, from Uber to Deliveroo, has been rolled out in cities, only for my constituents to look on enviously as we wait for the once or sometimes twice-daily diesel bus.
I have set out some concerns about how the green revolution might leave rural communities behind in a book, “Britain Beyond Brexit”, edited by my hon. Friend George Freeman. I would strongly support Ministers should they adopt the recommendation of CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation, for there to be a right to request an electric vehicle charging point. That would give rural communities a chance to show that there is the demand necessary to make one viable. I would also be grateful if Ministers focused more heavily on how to build EV infrastructure for those who live and work in rural areas rather than just for those who travel through those areas as they go from big city to big city—after all, it will not be possible to decarbonise our country unless we decarbonise countryside.
If we can decarbonise our transport sector, the prize on offer is substantial: we would not only meet our climate change targets, but see improvements in health and air quality while supporting the British car industry, which is the jewel in our manufacturing crown.
A high-tech, clean future is possible, but unless Ministers help local authorities deliver the charging infrastructure, we risk being left behind as the rest of the world rushes to embrace this technology, and our world-leading position could be squandered by a lack of co-ordination.