Electric Vehicles and Bicycles

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:11 pm on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West 5:11 pm, 9th May 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe. The take-up of electric vehicles and electric bikes is vital in our fight against irreversible climate change and to improve our air quality—especially in cities, given that so many of our cities exceed both EU and World Health Organisation safe air quality levels. I represent a constituency with no public electric vehicle chargepoints, which is an issue I have raised with the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry, both publicly and privately. I can now add this Minister to the list of those I am raising it with.

I want to use the debate to make public ideas that I have put to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and that I now put to the Department for Transport. This is timely, following the joint report by the Transport Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Health Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee—I sit on the Environmental Audit Committee—which included a recommendation that

“the Treasury introduces more ambitious measures to encourage the take-up of low emission vehicles” and electric vehicles, including

“a revision of Vehicle Excise Duty rates to better incentivise both new purchases and support the second-hand market.”

Those points were made brilliantly by Andrew Selous, who did not make any points in his speech that I disagreed with.

I have ideas in six areas that would improve the take-up of electric vehicles and bikes. First, we should align Office for Low Emission Vehicles residential chargepoint grant residential funding with the Joint Air Quality Unit funding to provide a match for local authorities, to make OLEV residential funding feasible. Currently, we have very low take-up of that OLEV grant. At present, local authorities have no repayment mechanism for residential OLEV, so they need to find a matched funder. A list of potential match sources would unlock the fund. Local authorities will not currently commit their scarce funding to fund OLEV residential chargepoints; they need that matched funding.

Secondly, we should regulate the electric supply so that three-phase power supplies are included in building codes for all new homes, offices, shopping centres, public buildings and other areas where public parking is available. Only a small number of EV charge stations may then be necessary. At present, retail and commercial sites may rapidly increase the number of EV chargepoints on their premises without having to make major investments into new power supply, but power supply is one of the great barriers to increasing EV chargepoints. Further to installing wires, it would doubtless encourage take-up if we regulate so that all new workplaces—particularly those of large employers—have a minimum number of EV charging facilities on site.

Thirdly, clean air zones such as the one coming to Leeds next year are a powerful policy tool. However, one concern is that those in social grades D and E who have kept an old vehicle running are likely to be charged, and they are least likely to be able to make use of the Government’s ultra low emission vehicle grants. We could test extending the ULEV grant into the secondary market. Plenty of electric vehicles will be fleet cars, and one or two-year-old vehicles in the secondary electric vehicle market could be purchased by those in the lower earning quartiles. That should be encouraged via an extension in ULEV grants. The Government should test such a policy in areas where they are bringing in clean air zones, because that is where charging will start.

Fourthly, we should encourage EV charging more broadly. There is considerable scope for soft measures to encourage electric vehicles, which could include free parking electric vehicle-only bays on the high street, with free charging, which would incentivise those bays to be used and normalise electric vehicles among people who use the high street.

Fifthly, we should provide support for the city centre parking levy—a levy on businesses with parking spaces—to encourage a modal shift to other measures, including opt-outs for EV charging. We would put a levy on businesses, but if they put in an electric vehicle space, that space would not be charged for, to incentivise them to put in electric vehicle chargepoints.

Sixthly, on licensing and planning, we should make regulations to ensure that when granting new planning or licensing of some commercial premises over a certain size, EV spaces must be installed at a certain density per resident or parking space. This area has fallen through the gaps: we see many planning permissions across the country with no electric vehicle spaces or chargepoints. We should therefore legislate to ensure that all UK car parks with more than 50 spaces must have a minimum of one EV space per 25 spaces. Therefore, a car park with 50 spaces would have to provide a minimum of two EV chargepoints. That would be incredibly easy to implement in quite a short timescale.

Those are my immediate points for improving our EV infrastructure. I understand that we are looking at 2040, but we need a timetable. I agree that we need to look to 2030 or even 2025—the Norway model. My suggestions are not in conflict at all with deadlines or implementation dates and could be considered now. They would hugely incentivise take-up of electric vehicles.