5. Debate on the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee Report — 'The Welsh Government’s EV charging infrastructure strategy and action plan'

– in the Senedd at 3:14 pm on 7 June 2023.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 3:14, 7 June 2023

(Translated)

Item 5 is next, a debate on the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee report, 'The Welsh Government’s EV charging infrastructure strategy and action plan'. I call on Heledd Fychan to move the motion.

(Translated)

Motion NDM8281 Heledd Fychan

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee report: ‘The Welsh Government’s EV charging infrastructure strategy and action plan’, laid on 28 March 2023.

(Translated)

Motion moved.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 3:14, 7 June 2023

(Translated)

Thank you, Llywydd, and it's a pleasure for me to be able to open this debate today, particularly being an interim Chair of the committee, but I was fortunate to be part of an evidence session on this issue. I would like to thank all those stakeholders who contributed to the committee’s work, as well as the members of the committee and, of course, the officials who support our work.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 3:15, 7 June 2023

(Translated)

Our report on the Welsh Government’s strategy for promoting electric vehicles has revealed a disappointing lack of progress, with examples of broken promises, and a worrying lack of ambition. We believe that urgent action is needed to address these issues and put Wales back on track.

Earlier today, the Deputy Minister announced that £15 million would be made available to help local authorities increase the number of charging facilities. Of course, we welcome this announcement. But there are problems in this policy area that go beyond funding. Our work focused on the Welsh Government’s electrical vehicle strategy and the accompanying action plan, which was published in 2021. As a committee, we were disappointed that, two years on from the publication of the 2021 action plan, the Welsh Government had failed even to start to make progress on several key actions.

I’m grateful to the Deputy Minister for his response to our report. As is customary, he has engaged with the committee's work constructively and positively. And while I am disappointed that he has rejected four of our 21 recommendations, the timing of today’s funding announcement a few hours ago should silence anyone who doubts the potential impact of Senedd committees and the importance of scrutiny of this kind.

I will start by talking about the EV strategy itself. The Deputy Minister points out that £26 million has been invested in charging infrastructure across Wales since the strategy was published, and this has led to an increase of nearly 1,500 in the number of public charging points available, which is an increase of 120 per cent.

This response gives the impression that this is a sign of good progress, but we know that this isn’t the case. Only this week, in its damning report, the UK Climate Change Committee specifically focused on EV charging infrastructure, saying that the development of infrastructure is not happening quickly enough to support the transition to electric vehicles. It's clear, therefore, that it’s not just our committee that is concerned by the lack of progress.

The strategy states that the number of fast chargers needed will need to increase between 30,000 and 50,000 by 2030. That is, we will need a tenfold increase in chargers in the next seven years. But the committee was not convinced that the strategy or action plan will deliver these kinds of numbers.

The vision set out in the strategy is that all users of electric cars and vans in Wales will be confident by 2025 that they can access EV charging infrastructure when and where they need it. Well, we are only two years away from that target date, and several stakeholders pointed out that we have a long way to go in that short time. And despite the investment made to date, EV users and drivers highlighted problems with a lack of charging points, charging points not working, and the lack of information about the chargers.

Our first recommendation was that the Welsh Government should revisit the EV charging strategy in light of the changing patterns of EV usage and the growth of commercial EVs. The Minister has rejected this because he is satisfied that the strategy is sufficiently flexible to reflect changes in usage of EVs. But Deputy Minister, we will see whether you were right in being as confident as this when we reach that deadline in 2025.

I will move now to the action plan. I think that it’s fair to say that we were surprised at the lack of progress here. The action plan contains nine actions; two years on, there has been no discernible progress on five of them, and targets and deadlines have been missed already.

We were surprised that there was no explanation for why the actions were not delivered. In several cases, the Welsh Government said that it was considering whether to progress specific actions and how to do so, months after the deadline for them to be delivered had passed. For the committee, the lack of progress undermines the credibility of the action plan and has called into question the Welsh Government’s commitment to it.

And given the lamentable lack of progress on the action plan, one of the most surprising announcements from the Deputy Minister was about the creation of another plan—the delivery plan this time, rather than an action plan.

The Deputy Minister has provided a version of this detailed delivery plan with his response, and it is a big step forward in terms of the granularity of the plan and the clear steps that need to be taken to stand a chance of realising the vision in the EV strategy. It is certainly a step in the right direction. But after a couple of years of dawdling, is it possible that the Deputy Minister has finally found second gear?

Turning finally to specific recommendations, the Deputy Minister has rejected recommendation 12, that the Welsh Government should explain why it did not establish the connections group, even though this was promised under action 2 of the action plan. By not explaining, the Government succeeds in only one thing, namely undermining the credibility of the action plan. I suspect pressures on resources and priorities is the reason behind this, but if so, the Deputy Minister should come out and say so, as it is not unreasonable for the committee to seek an answer on this issue.

Recommendation 17 was also rejected. It asked the Welsh Government to explain why a charge point operator working group was not set up in 2021, as promised under action 6 of the action plan. The Deputy Minister says in his response that the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales agreed that the group shouldn’t be established until the delivery plan was in place. Well, there's no excuse for this, is there, Deputy Minister, because it's the Welsh Government that has decided on the actions and the deadlines for delivery. What's the point, therefore, of having actions and deadlines in an action plan if you have no intention of adhering to them? Could you at least explain to the Senedd why this has happened?

I'll conclude my opening remarks in this debate with those few comments. I look forward very much to hearing the other contributions and the response of the Deputy Minister. Thank you for the opportunity to do so today.

(Translated)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 3:22, 7 June 2023

By January 2023, the number of charge points per 100,000 residents installed in Wales was 47, Scotland 69, and London 1,311. Those figures speak for themselves—[Interruption.] Sorry, Minister, but you are failing on this aspect. I'm here to scrutinise and challenge you, so let me finish, please, out of courtesy. You are failing to deliver and inspire a rapid roll-out of EV charging points in Wales. Unsurprisingly, and it was well put across by Heledd Fychan, the committee is concerned that the strategy may fail to achieve its vision that, by 2025, all users of electric cars and vans in Wales will be confident they can access EV charging infrastructure when and where they need it. A plan for one or two 50 kW rapid chargers on the strategic road network every 20 miles is now inadequate.

Olly Craughan, of DPD Group, discussed this strategy's lack of consideration for commercial vehicles. DPD group is decarbonising its fleet quickly, and they have nearly 3,000 EVs across the UK. The need for this strategy to cover commercial use is clear, yet you have rejected recommendation 1 and you just simply indicate that a plan for freight is being developed. Logistics UK have expressed their disappointment, especially as they find that 62 per cent of van operators plan to have decarbonised their van fleets by 2030. So, it would be beneficial to us and businesses operating in Wales if you could provide a date here today for the publication of the plan for freight and indicate what changes you're going to deliver.

Logistics UK have also highlighted that adopting electrical commercial vehicles means expanding depot charging, yet a third of companies interviewed have cited power supply infrastructure as one of their biggest challenges for delivering depot charging. Some operators reported estimated costs from their energy network operator of over £1 million for upgrading their energy supply to enable this charging. So, can you explain, Deputy Minister, how you are going to deliver a fair and equitable approach for funding electricity connections to enable the expansion of depot charging?

The WLGA have highlighted that, whilst equality issues are mentioned in the strategy, they're not really explored in depth. Dr Neil Lewis stated that 40 per cent people do not have off-road parking, which makes it difficult for them to even access charging for their EVs at an affordable rate. In 2020, I urged the Welsh Government to investigate how it could support the conversion of publicly available lamp posts into electric car charging points. It’s used all over the UK; they are using electric car charging points. Three years on, and it is a disgrace that there is only one lamp-post charging unit in the whole of Wales. When considering that London already has at least 7,000, the Labour Government has absolutely no excuse for such a lack of provision here. Clarity on what action you are taking now to address the crisis would be welcome, because as it stands, I am certainly not convinced that you are adhering to your own commitment in response to recommendation 3 that equality and social justice is being taken into account. 

I would also like to highlight a very important statement in this report. Five of the nine actions were not delivered according to the timescales in the action plan, yet no explanation is given for why the actions were not delivered on time. The whole lack of progress undermines the credibility of your action plan, and actually calls into question the Welsh Government’s commitment to it at all. 

In response to recommendation 6, you actually wrongly dispute the point. Connections group to report in the 2021 financial year: not delivered. Network of charging forecourts across Wales at approximately 20 miles across the SRN by 2025: not delivered. Review of policy and regulations by 2022 and updates made where appropriate to support EV uptake: not delivered. Establishment of a charge-point operator working group in 2021: not delivered.

You’ve rejected recommendation 7 that the Welsh Government should deliver on its commitment to review the KPIs annually, but clarify why.

I will conclude on a positive. I welcome the notes that draft amendments to building regs should be forthcoming and that these will mandate the provision of EV charge points for each new dwelling with an associated car parking space. But, Minister, you have a long, long way to go to actually put words into actions, and I think that we as a Senedd are asking that here today. Diolch. 

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour 3:27, 7 June 2023

You won’t be surprised to know that I'll take a slightly different tone in this debate, because I absolutely agree with the Welsh Government that the majority of electric vehicle charging infrastructure should be delivered by the private sector. The Welsh Government doesn’t run petrol stations, so why should they run electric charging points? I think this is very much something that is fundamental. The private sector needs to step up to the plate, and there are lots of ways in which—. 

Photo of Darren Millar Darren Millar Conservative 3:28, 7 June 2023

I’m grateful to you for taking the intervention. I appreciate the point that you make about the private sector needing to step up to the plate. Indeed, it seems that they have in many respects, in order to fill some of the void that the Welsh Government has left. But wouldn’t you agree with me that if the Welsh Government has been given tens of millions of pounds to expand the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points, the paltry number of electric vehicle charging points provided by the Welsh Government is completely and totally unacceptable?

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour

No, I don’t. I agree that the private sector has installed electric charging points, and they’ve done it for perfectly valid commercial reasons, which is that they want people to visit their site, and therefore they are making it attractive to people who own electric vehicles. Supermarkets, for example, have started putting in electric vehicle charging points. I’m surprised that many of the hotels along some of the electric vehicle charging point deserts—for example, going up the A470—haven’t taken advantage of this opportunity to encourage more drivers to want to stop and eat at their hostelry while they’re charging their vehicle. That seems inexplicable to me, whether you’re a hotel, a pub, or a restaurant, that you haven’t jumped at this opportunity to increase your commercial opportunities. I think that the money that may have come from the UK Government needs to be used on different things, and I support the way the Welsh Government is approaching this.

So, we know from the evidence we took that the strategy to have the aspiration met by 2025, that all electric car and van users can be confident of access to electrical vehicle charging in time, is challenging and it's ambitious but pragmatic. So, I'm hoping that the Welsh Government will be able to elucidate in your response, Deputy Minister, that you think that that ambition is still doable. Because I think it's really important that we endeavour to encourage those who can afford to move to electric vehicles to do so when they're changing their vehicle in the normal manner. Because obviously, all that supports the climate emergency.

I want to focus in my remaining remarks on the more challenging issues around on-street parking in built-up areas, which I know has been identified as one of the two priorities of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure programme. So, at least half my constituents' homes don't have off-street parking. They either have a small garden at the front, or their house goes straight on to the street, with possibly not even enough for a rubbish bin, never mind a car to be parked there. And clearly, we need to avoid the perverse consequence of everybody who's got a front garden then converting it into a hard-standing garden, with all the sustainable drainage consequences that we rehearsed earlier in the climate change questions. So, much of the housing in Cardiff Central is terraced housing, similar to many Valleys properties, where, literally, they have no space big enough. And what I don't want to see is the proliferation of new pillars on pavements, which will be a hazard to people with pushchairs, to people with sight problems.

We need to have an alternative way of looking at this, in the context of the fact that all of us need to be thinking about considering whether or not we really actually need to have a private vehicle, rather than simply hiring a vehicle from a car club, as and when we need to use one. And obviously, in the context of an urban environment like Cardiff, that is a significant and important consideration. So, I want to know what discussions the Welsh Government has had with local authorities like Cardiff on how we can structure our electric vehicle charging points to be much more friendly to people to be able to play in the street, rather than having all these vehicles cluttering it up, and having centralised electric vehicle charging points overnight—maybe in commercial businesses' parking places, where they don't need to use them overnight because they're closed; they could extend it to a club of local community people, to enable them to do that there. It's about using urban spaces effectively, without causing other, perverse consequences. And it seems to me that that is quite a major challenge in the urban environment, and one that is worthy of a good deal more debate.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 3:33, 7 June 2023

(Translated)

I'd like to thank the committee team, our Chair, and our interim Chair for their work.

And as we've already heard, with the need to move towards sustainable transport becoming ever more pertinent as a subject worldwide, the adoption of electric vehicles is a vital opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and ensure a greener future. Now, we in Wales should be in a good position to lead the way in developing a comprehensive infrastructure for electric vehicles, but, as we've already heard, the reality is disappointing. The committee report notes the serious deficiencies in terms of the infrastructure, as has been mentioned. At present, Wales has the lowest number of public charging points and fast or superfast chargers of the population in Great Britain—I won't rehearse those figures. But it is clear that, two years since the action plan on this issue was published in 2021, to date, I would say, certainly, that satisfactory progress hadn't been made by the Welsh Government on several key actions, and there are still a number of issues that need to be resolved. Today's news about a further investment of £15 million is very positive; that is certainly something to be welcomed. We need a clear plan to enable this to lead to clear outcomes, to avoid the repetition of mistakes that have taken place over the past two years. I'm sure that everyone in the Siambr today would agree that the seriousness of the climate crisis facing us now means that we have no time to waste. To begin that journey, it is crucial that there is effective collaboration and co-ordination between key stakeholders. The Welsh Government, local authorities, as we've already heard, and transport agencies must work hand in hand, with the private sector too, to create a comprehensive infrastructure, while there is a need for close collaboration with energy providers to assess relevant grid capacity. 

Now, as we've heard, private partners are going to be exceptionally important in this, through, for example—. And perhaps we should be thinking about encouraging public/private partnerships as a result of this, for example, through offering financial incentives such as grants and tax credits, thus benefiting from the funding and resources expertise of both sectors. 

We also need a thorough assessment of the needs of the charging infrastructure. We must analyse the landscape and identify appropriate locations for electric vehicle charging stations, based on a number of factors, such as population density, as Jenny's just talked about, transport corridors, urban centres, residential areas, workplaces, retail centres, and popular tourist destinations—there are so many factors that need to be considered here. In addition to this, it is vital that fast charging infrastructure is just as prominent in rural areas as it is in urban settings. On top of that, these charging stations should be positioned in areas that have been well lit, thereby prioritising convenience and safety. That is crucial.

We must be clear about the kinds of charging stations that we need, bearing in mind the predicted growth in the number of EVs in Wales. This should include a blend of methods of charging, such as fast charging stations, destination chargers, and appropriate charging methods in residential areas.

Now, the Government should take a proactive role, of course, in encouraging the use of electric vehicles. At present, only 0.17 per cent of all vehicles in Wales are electric. And that shows how vital it is that we see a significant increase. And introducing financial incentives, again, such as tax credit grants for individuals and for businesses—. There are so many things that must be done, and that must be aligned, and we need to give this aim a boost. 

Now, I'm aware of time, so I'll say in conclusion how vital it is that we take steps to remedy the situation. A few weeks ago, the most recent report of the World Meteorological Organisation underlined that the planet is dangerously close to a temperature rise above the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius within the current decade. The climate crisis is not something that is beyond the horizon now; it is here now, and it is impacting our lives with every day that passes. So, we do need to have a system that doesn't just think about the public transport sector—that is going to be vital—but in terms of the way we live our lives, this has to be a crucial step that we take. And with those words, I'll conclude. Thank you. 

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 3:39, 7 June 2023

It's a pleasure to take part in this debate, and can I just begin by thanking colleagues on the committee for their work, jointly with all of us, in taking evidence, and also, to those who gave evidence, and to our Chair as well, and to our clerking team and the researchers? And it is a hard-hitting report, but it's been interesting the different approaches to that. Some have used the hard-hitting report to give the Government a good kick and walloping, as you'd probably expect—Janet. [Laughter.] Others have taken it to say 'Well, hold on, let's just look at where the balance of responsibilities lie as well, and who pulls their weight on this'. 

Can I just begin my contribution by saying something I don't think has been said today? EV, domestically, is not going to be—. We're focusing on EV points today, but EV cars, EV vehicles, are not going to be the solution for everybody. There are real social justice implications here with the roll-out of EV points, the affordability of EV technology, the sustainability of EV vehicles themselves and the carbon impacts and all of that. But let's put that to one side just for a moment and focus on the EV.

I think the point was well made in the Government's response to the 21 recommendations that we have, of which all but four have been fully accepted. It's a hard-hitting report. I would say that the Government has actually responded well, by and large. I can focus entirely on the four, which I will turn to in a moment, but actually accepting the majority of the recommendations shows, I think, contrary to what we've heard so far by some contributions, that the Government has taken this report very seriously, Llyr, and the impact of this report and the call to Government. But the report also makes clear—. The Government's response to the report makes clear that this has got to be primarily for the private sector to step up to the mark. It's for Government to help build a framework and to help it address market failures. So, in that respect, before I turn to the detail of the recommendations in the report, I do welcome not only the Government's response to the report, but also the announcement, as Delyth was saying, of the £15 million extra into Welsh electric vehicle charging points, and I've looked at the detail of some of this as well.

It's really interesting, because I don't have an EV car, but if I were to get one, most of my travelling, or my wife's, would be back and forth to work on a daily basis, within a 50-mile radius, if that, if we were doing that. But actually, we do take trips all the way to north and south Wales and so on and so forth. It's great to see, within the detail of the announcements that have been made, that there's a substantial investment in central Wales, in west Wales, in north Wales, in those parts that we do need to do this connectivity. What we now need is those private operators and the public authorities and others to make use of this and actually deliver those electric charging points so that nobody has to worry about it anymore.

And there is no direct contrast, by the way, with London and the south east, where these lovely people down there, by and large, are in an ultra-urban environment. Some of them have masses of disposable income and are buying up and are driving the electric vehicles. Well, good luck to them all there. It's not the same, I have to say, as well; we've got to find something that works for Wales, but the investment here within this £15 million is spread right across Wales. I do have a couple of questions on it. I just want to flag my own area for a moment. It's good to see money going into places like Rhondda Cynon Taf and so on. It also talks about money beyond Cardiff in terms of the Cardiff regional zone. I'd be interested to know whether that includes all the local authority areas within that wider Cardiff zone so that it does link up with the Neaths, the Swansea, and then into further parts of Wales and so on.

You also mentioned in your statement, by the way, the private sector taskforce. I welcome that. I would be grateful to hear any further detail on that, because I think that question of the private sector stepping up to the mark, it does need Government intervention to help drive that, but I think pulling them together to say, 'Right, how are we going to do this together?'—a bit like broadband in a sense. 'Where can we help as Government, but where are you going to step up and do this, because you will ultimately benefit?' In so doing, can I just suggest to him that one member of the taskforce you might want to look at is the representative of an indigenous Welsh business that is growing like Topsy, called Clenergy EV, based in my constituency? I think they are third now in terms of growth and leadership globally in terms of software applications so people can join up fleets. The public sector and individuals can join up where they can charge—in hospitals, in private charging facilities, in somebody's home, as well as these independent ones that are setting up.

I'm going to run out of time. There are four recommendations within here that you've rejected, Minister. Two of them, I notice, are timescale ones specifically. It would be helpful to know why the timescale has slipped on those two particular ones. On the first recommendation, recommendation 1, which you've rejected there, it would be good to know, because we have had representations from the commercial sector about what is going to happen with the network for them. So, some response to their concerns that the report didn't go far enough in addressing their concerns, but neither did the Government response; well, how are we going to respond to the commercial, the fleet sector, in driving forward these EV points? Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 3:44, 7 June 2023

It's already been noted that Wales has fewer rapid chargers compared to the rest of the UK, and the lowest number of public charging devices per population in Great Britain. It's probably, therefore, a good job that Rowan Atkinson doesn't live here in Wales, or he might feel even more duped by the electric vehicle revolution.

Deputy Minister, the Federation of Small Business believe the Welsh Government should revisit the EV strategy. They believe that the aim needs to be clearer; there needs to be clear timelines and support for businesses. Like other Members, I'd be interested to see how Welsh Government is co-operating with the private sector in this matter.

I'm pleased that the Welsh Government accepted the recommendation that Ministers should provide an update on the development of the transport decarbonisation programme, which will support the decarbonisation of buses and taxis and private-hire vehicles. Can you indicate what discussions you've had with Cardiff Bus to move to a net-zero fleet?

I also welcome the announcement today of £900,000 over the next two years for Cardiff Council to roll out EV charging and rapid charging infrastructure at Lamby Way for 12 electric refuse collection vehicles. But what about other councils in my region—the Vale of Glamorgan and Rhondda Cynon Taf? What action are they taking?

Across the region, how certain is the Minister that money from Welsh Government will ensure that the right electric charging infrastructure is at strategic sites, such as park-and-ride facilities? And I liked Jenny Rathbone's idea of using large areas that are empty for larger periods of time.

I know that some developers and builders in my region are looking to include heat-source pumps, solar panels and electric charging points in every new-build housing. I welcome that, and I welcome the consultation you've also mentioned this summer about amending the building regulations to mandate EV charge points. Could you provide a timescale for the completion of that consultation, and would you consider legislation to make EV charge points mandatory on new houses?

As Jenny Rathbone mentioned, many houses in my region, including my own, were built well over 100 years ago and do not have a front garden. I've raised this issue with you in the past on behalf of constituents. People living in terraced houses, with difficult lane access, feel the difficulties charging an EV would be far too prohibitive. I saw recently that Octopus Energy currently offer an overnight economy charge of 10p per kWh, plus a standing charge of 52p a day per household. But, in Rhondda Cynon Taf, the proposals for a charge was 35p per kWh when the public charging stations are up and running. It's fair to say that, as Huw Irranca-Davies mentioned, there's a real issue here about discriminating against residents of terraced housing and discouraging the use of EVs by members of the community. We must ensure that there isn't an electric vehicle charging divide because of where people live. Perhaps, Deputy Minister, you could update me on the work that is being done to provide charging points in terraced housing, as has been piloted in Oxfordshire. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative 3:48, 7 June 2023

Can I just start by thanking the members of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee for producing this interesting and informative report? Let's hope that this report serves as a wake-up call for the Welsh Government and we finally actually do see some meaningful action, instead of the usual warm words. Time and time again, we hear Ministers in this place claim they're part of the green Government, yet this report does beg to differ. The Welsh Government has got a truly shocking record when it comes to delivering electric vehicle charging points, which many of my colleagues, indeed, from all various platforms here, have indeed been saying so far.

Now, we are going to be seeing more electric vehicles on our roads, like it or lump it, going forward, especially in the light of the UK Government's ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars. So, it's absolutely imperative that drivers do have access to charging points. In 2021, the Welsh Government published an action plan to increase the uptake of electric vehicles in Wales. How well is that working out? Because I note the committee actually picked up on this fact, that the Government has failed to even start making progress on a number of key actions. One of the Welsh Government's aims is, and I quote, that:

'By 2025, all users of electric cars and vans in Wales are confident that they can access electric vehicle charging infrastructure when and where they need it.'

End quote. I saw the Welsh Government's announcement, as many of you, perhaps, have today, that they're going to be investing £15 million in EV charging, which may sound like a lot of money, which is great and very welcome. However, having done a bit of Googling myself while we were sitting here earlier on, the average charging point costs between £1,000 to £1,500, plus VAT. Now, if you don’t take into account the installation or any of the other charges that could go into connecting it or et cetera, we still hit below 10,000 charging points, and that’s quite laughable in my opinion. It appears that Labour Ministers really are living in cloud-cuckoo-land if they are nowhere near close to hitting that milestone.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour 3:50, 7 June 2023

I took one from one of your colleagues.

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative

Go for it, Jenny—go on.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour

I think we have to think differently about this, because vehicles aren't going to be used all of the time, every day of the week. And therefore there's got to be a change of attitude, in sharing electric vehicle charging points so that—. Most people would only ever need to charge once a week, and then you don't need to clutter the environment with too many electric vehicle charging points. And so communities could share the cost of installing electric vehicle charging points at £1,500 between them—that wouldn't be a big deal. If they have a car, they can afford that.

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative 3:51, 7 June 2023

Of course, I understand your point, Jenny, but bearing in mind I have dealt with a lot of people who drive cars for commuting purposes, for hospital appointments, those people who have disabilities, who have a need to be able to drive their cars, even then—. I completely agree with you, we do need to have more charging points, regardless of how that's done. I know my colleague, Darren Millar, raised the question earlier, which wasn't answered as well and was kind of rebuffed, whereby he asked—. Money has been given by the UK Government to the Welsh Government—where has it gone? Where is it going? Why hasn't that been spent on EV charging points? [Interruption.] I just want to finish my point. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. According to the Welsh Government's own stats, Wales will need an extra 30,000 to 50,000 fast chargers by 2030. Now, by my calculations that I just mentioned, £15 million won't even hit that figure or even close to it. So, is the Welsh Government confident that it's going to actually even hit that target that it has made? I'd be interested to know what the Welsh Government is going to be doing to urgently improve the provision of EV charging points in Wales, especially in light of this report, because, to me, it looks like Ministers have spent the last few years just sitting on their hands.

I support what the Plaid Member from south-east Wales said earlier, that Ministers must think more innovatively and incentivise a faster roll-out of EV charging points, with a greater focus on expanding provision in rural communities in Wales. Personally, I have no doubt more people would use electric vehicles, but, at the moment, they simply can't because it's not practicable. This needs to change, Deputy Presiding Officer, and it needs to change fast.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:52, 7 June 2023

(Translated)

And I call on the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. And I'd like to thank Members for their contributions and the committee for their work in producing the report. I welcome the challenge and the scrutiny by the committee, both in our oral evidence sessions and in today’s report. And I would welcome them having an ongoing role to hold our feet to the fire. I think it’s a very important function that they provide. And we have accepted the overwhelming majority of the recommendations made by the committee and we are delivering on these.

Myself, I’m a fan of not putting 'accept in principle' when we don’t agree with something, to avoid fudging. I’d much rather say, ‘We don’t agree’ and set out the reasons why. And that’s why, on four of the recommendations, I’ve set out that we do not accept, and I’ll just address those in turn now.

Recommendation 1 asks the Welsh Government to revisit our EV charging strategy. Now, we are confident the strategy, which was developed to take into account a rapid change in technology and usage, remains valid. The principles and the framework remain valid and don’t need revisiting.

Recommendation 7 asks the Welsh Government to commit to review and publish the key performance indicators annually. Instead, we’re planning to review and publish the KPIs at strategic points in time—not to an arbitrary rhythm, but when we are reflecting key stages of the delivery programme and the availability of resources. And comment was made about the impact of resources, and, of course, it is a fact that, when our budgets are being cut and when the number of civil servants we have is held down because of austerity, inevitably there is a limit to what we can do at any one time. And that affects all of our actions. And I would have thought, from the comments from the Plaid Cymru Members, that, having Members in their group who are working closely with the Welsh Government as designated Members, they would know the reality of the operation of the Government and the tight resourcing that is available and the judgments that have to be made. And there’s no point denying the fact that that has had some impact on our ability to deliver this.

But, more than that, I think we have decided to step and pause in our analysis—rather than just spraying money willy-nilly, to look at where the market is planning to serve, to analyse that and to map that, and to look where Government intervention would be best. So, I think, by surveying the landscape first and then ramping up the spending second, that's a much better approach than the approach the committee seems to be chiding us for. 

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour

I just wonder whether, with that approach that the Minister is suggesting that he takes, when we come to the work of the taskforce and sitting down with them, is that a point at which he'll be able to explain to the Senedd what those resources allow in strategic points of review of hitting the KPIs would be? I get what you're saying about, 'Pause. Work with the sector'—we've got to demand the private sector step up to the mark on this—but there's got to be a point at which you come back to the Senedd and say, 'We now have got a clearer understanding of when we're going to go for this.'

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour

Well, let me come to that. Let me just first address recommendations 12 and 17, which ask the Welsh Government to establish the connections group and the charge point operator working group within weeks. Now, we are in the process of setting up the two groups. However, we believe it's essential that we take time to develop a robust delivery programme before our formal engagement with distribution network operators and charge point operators. So, we're not going to be doing that within weeks, but we will be doing it soon, and that's why I've not accepted those recommendations. 

We have learnt a lot from our approach to broadband, and, if you think back to the debates we've had on broadband, we've decided an outside-in approach in broadband. So, rather than looking at where the market will effectively meet demand in its own right, in dense urban conurbations, rather than over-serving those markets by also putting Government funding in, in broadband, we decided to target those areas the market would serve slowest, and that situation has worked well, and I think we should follow that same approach with electric charging points, because, as Huw Irranca and Jenny Rathbone have echoed, this is primarily a role for the private sector, with the Welsh Government intervening where there's market failure or the market is slow to respond. I think that is the best use of public money and it reflects the fact that we don't have the full lever of powers in this area.

Now, the statement the committee made, which has been augmented, I think, in a fairly daft way by some comments in the press and by Members, is that

'Welsh Government had completely failed to deliver many of the Actions in the Action Plan and by the lack of progress towards achieving others.'

Now, I think that is an unfair evaluation of the work and the results that we have completed to date. Now, for this reason, I welcome the opportunity to update Members on the progress that we have made, and we shouldn't lose sight of how complex and expensive this area of work is. Our financial analysis suggests a total capital cost of over £350 million will need to be invested to install sufficient en-route and destination charging by 2040. Now, given the scale of the challenge, as I say, we expect most of this to be delivered by the private sector, and our role is to step in to help that, to remove barriers and to look where we can make targeted help available. So, I've decided to again learn from the experience of the broadband delivery, where the National Infrastructure Commission a few years ago recommended we create a barrier-busting taskforce for broadband to work with the private operators to identify where Government action would be helpful.

So, we're going to do the same with electric charging points; we're going to set a private sector taskforce that will help us engage with the market, bring down any barriers to investment and accelerate the roll-out of charging infrastructure. Now, that may involve financial intervention, but it's just as likely to involve issues around planning or stubbornness of different institutions to respond in a timely manner. So, I think that will be welcomed by the sector as a practical thing we can do to unlock private sector investment, because, as Huw and Jenny mentioned, there is market appetite here on commercial grounds to invest in this, and our job is to lever that into Wales rather than to try to duplicate it.

Now, since the publication of the strategy, we've focused our resources on two key priorities. First, delivering a baseline charging infrastructure across Wales that gives users the confidence that they can travel across our country without fear of running out of charge. Now, Darren Millar asked how we'd spent the money that we've been able to draw down. Between 2020 and 2022, we have delivered £26 million of ULEV, as it's called, funding, to local authorities, to install charging infrastructure across Wales, and this year we've approved a total of £15 million of funding for the roll-out of EV charging infrastructure, and that includes £8.9 million for local authorities. We did an initial trial asking TfW to help us to roll out the infrastructure and concluded that, actually, local authorities were far better placed to play that role, and we have now decided, in a fulsome way, to reflect that in our funding decisions.

So, we have spent the money well and there's infrastructure to show for it. It has proven very complex in some cases and very slow and frustrating. So, in the Rhyl case, in Darren Millar's area, there is a very nice charging plaza, which I have visited, but that was much delayed because of the need to create an extra substation, about access to the grid, soaring construction costs and so on. So, this is not straightforward, but I think we are making some good progress.

And our second focus has been on developing tools and plans that'll help local authorities to accelerate the roll-out of their network. We will complete the installation of 19 rapid charging points at least every 25 miles across Wales and the strategic road network this year—that's two years ahead of the action plan target. It's a major step forward to delivering our vision, and it stands in contrast to what Janet Finch-Saunders said, that the figures speak for themselves. And Natasha Asghar tried to portray this as a truly shocking record. I'm afraid the facts don't confirm those biases.

Jenny Rathbone asked about some reassurance that we wouldn't be cluttering the pavement environment by having charging infrastructure on pavements. I absolutely agree, and that's why the national standards that we're just about to publish make clear that that is not acceptable. And, to make sure that we've got those standards right, I did share it with the secretariat of the cross-party group on active travel, got them to review the document, they've made a number of amendments, which we have accepted, so I hope that addresses—

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour

—that concern.

I fear I haven't been able to address all of the points. Let me just simply say to conclude: there is much that has been done. At the moment, we have more than our per-head share of charge points for the number of people in Wales who own electric vehicles, and as that ramps up, as we want it to, so our coverage will ramp up. But it'll ramp up in a strategic way, because we've taken the trouble to do the preparatory work, to do the baseline, to establish private sector relationships and do this in a measured and prudent way. And I really hope the committee keeps an eye on our progress and keeps challenging us and, together, we'll get to the right place. Diolch.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:02, 7 June 2023

(Translated)

I call on Heledd Fychan to reply to the debate.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you to the Deputy Minister for the response and to everyone who has contributed to this debate.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

Certainly, the ongoing role is something the committee will certainly welcome, and the committee will be relooking at this during the Senedd term. And, obviously, as I mentioned at the beginning, the fact that we saw that announcement today is proof of the importance of scrutiny.

I was concerned in terms of the Deputy Minister's response in terms of KPIs and so on, and the lack of commitment to a firm date, because, for scrutiny purposes, it is useful for us to know when those are expected, so that we are able to monitor progress, so I would not personally accept that point.

I think Huw Irranca made the very, very important point in terms of social justice, because, obviously, for a number of our constituents, they don't even own cars, let alone electric vehicles. That's not going to be affordable, hence why there's been such an emphasis, in previous debates, on public transport and so on. So, I do take your point there, and it is very well made.

And in terms of the infrastructure, which was mentioned by many, many Members—Jenny, Delyth and Rhys ab Owen—in terms of the challenges with terraced housing, for instance. There are huge, huge challenges, and, Jenny, you were right to mention in terms of those trip hazards for those—. Already, pavement parking can be a huge challenge; if you put more trip hazards, then for more elderly, vulnerable people, those who have a visual impairment, it is a huge challenge, and we see those in many, many communities currently, where people are trying to make that switch.

But the reality at the moment is that many people who are making that switch are finding it difficult with the infrastructure that's in place, of not having the security that they will be able to get from north to south Wales, et cetera, on those journeys. We heard of many people not certain that they would make it to Eisteddfod yr Urdd in Llanymddyfri last week with electric vehicles. So, there is a challenge there about making sure that the infrastructure, even when it's in place, is working, which is something we also heard as evidence through this work.

Delyth, you mentioned the importance of safety—

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 4:05, 7 June 2023

(Translated)

—that safety is so vitally important too, because many of these public sites aren't well lit. And certainly, we must be ensuring that this is safe for everyone if we're going down this route.  

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

Both Natasha and Janet mentioned some of the barriers at present and some of the challenges, and I thank you for your contributions as well.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

But certainly, I would want to acknowledge that the private sector does have a key role in terms of providing charging points, and that's clear in the report. But the Welsh Government must not neglect its important leadership role here either. We need to improve performance in this area, and many key stakeholders do feel that they're being left in the dark, and they're waiting eagerly for any sign of definite progress. And as I mentioned in opening this debate, the UK Climate Change Committee in its progress report has stated that we need a significant and definite increase in speed if the Welsh Government is to reach its targets by 2025. Those are the Government's own targets.

I was disappointed to hear the Deputy Minister talking about the co-operation agreement because this is a committee report, and we are contributing as cross-party members of a committee. And this is a report that scrutinises the Government's own targets. I do appreciate that you have outlined the important work that the committee will have in continuing to collaborate and to scrutinise in this area. It is of great interest to our constituents and it's important in terms of our response to the climate emergency.

I would like to conclude by thanking Llyr Gruffydd for his role as Chair of the committee whilst this report was being developed. I'm sure Llyr would have a great deal to say had he contributed to the debate today, but thank you to everyone who has contributed, and we will accept your challenge, Minister, to continue to scrutinise and continue to push the Government on this issue.  

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:07, 7 June 2023

(Translated)

The proposal is to note the committee's report. Does any Member object? No, therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36. 

(Translated)

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.