Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

– in Westminster Hall at 3:53 pm on 7 March 2023.

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[Relevant Documents: First Report of the Transport Committee, Session 2021-22, Zero emission vehicles, HC 27 and the Government response, HC 759.]

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin 4:00, 7 March 2023

I will call Stephen Hammond to move the motion, and then I will call the Minister to respond. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in 30-minute debates he does not get a one-minute wind-up at the end.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. We had an important hour and a half debate on electric vehicle charging in this place less than two weeks ago, led by my hon. Friend Steve Brine. It was a wide-ranging debate and we touched on a number of issues, but today I want to define it slightly more tightly and look at a couple of issues in a bit more detail. I recognise that there is a risk of repetition, but this is an extraordinarily important matter for this country to get right.

Although the country and the Government are making huge progress—the Government are leading the world, to a great extent, with the UK’s net zero target of 2050 and the phasing out of the internal combustion engine by the beginning of the 2030s—it is hugely important that they set aspirations and lead other nations.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing forward this debate. There just are not enough electric charging points across the whole of the United Kingdom. As a result, constituents are unwilling or unable to buy electric cars, which take eight hours to charge fully. The latest figures indicate that there are now more than 90 vehicles per rapid charging point. Does he agree that it is crucial that conversations are had with Departments in the devolved Governments and other countries to enable them to align with the rest of the UK in electric vehicle charging points?

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

I will later refer to the barriers to greater electric vehicle uptake, which include accessibility and the number of on and off-street charging points. There are great regional disparities across the United Kingdom in the number of charging points per 1,000 people. There are great differences between London, Scotland and the rest of the world. I am sure colleagues from more rural areas will talk about access to charging points and about local councils’ ability to allow people to use on-street and off-street parking, which sometimes prohibits the movement from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles.

Transport represents 27% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and road transport is somewhat over 85% of that. We should not underestimate the progress that has been made. There are now 39,000 charging points across the UK and about 1,135,000 plug-in vehicles. But, as Jim Shannon said, the price of those vehicles and the lack of access to charging points prevent uptake. There is also a lack of a second-hand market—perhaps unsurprisingly, given the relatively recent development of the electric vehicle—which would mean more widespread availability and help the movement to electric vehicles.

Production levels of electric vehicles, which were greater two years ago than they are now, means that although there are 1,135,000 vehicles at the moment, the progress of uptake is slower than we would have expected, given the culture behind electric and hybrid.

Photo of Alan Mak Alan Mak Conservative, Havant

My hon. Friend rightly made the point about access. Havant Borough Council has installed several fast electric vehicle charging points in partnership with a private sector contractor. Does he agree that local authorities, particularly those in coastal and rural areas, have a key role to play in expanding EV charging infrastructure and that others should follow the example of my local council, and will he say more about that in his later remarks?

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

My hon. Friend is right to point out that a number of councils are exemplars for charging, but a number of other councils are lagging behind the good example of Havant. I will come to that issue, because one of my key asks is for the Minister to consider what pressure the Department is prepared to put on local councils. I mentioned that we have seen some movement on electric cars, but there are barriers. Perhaps the biggest is accessing charging points and the infrastructure that is available. We have a target of 300,000 charging points by 2030, but we currently have fewer than 39,000. We therefore need a compound increase of 33% over the next seven or eight years to make that a reality. Unless we do more, that target looks challenging.

There are also issues with accessing on-street charging points, of which there is a limited number. We need to change the culture, and part of that is that, although there are huge numbers of funds and suppliers, far too many people think only the public sector should provide charging points. That is wrong. Also, if someone who lives on a road with a limited number of charging points gets home at six or seven in the evening and someone is charging their car, and if it is not a rapid charging point, it will take anywhere between four and eight hours to charge that car. I challenge my colleagues here to say who is going to get up at two o’clock in the morning and move their car so that the charging point becomes available, and who else is going to get up and move their car to that charging point.

We need to make more on-street charging points available. We also need to make some of those on-street charging points accessible to households that are unlikely to be near places where the public installation of on-street charging can happen. I will make the case in a few moments that local byelaws should be changed so that that can become a reality for many people, particularly those in rural areas.

Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I am sure the Minister will respond to in detail in a moment. On rural charging for electric vehicles, it strikes me that in very rural areas, such as many parts of Suffolk in my constituency, the only solution is to make the availability of home charging for each and every household economically viable. Even in a village, it can still be one or 1.5 miles from one end to the other in terms of connectivity. Will he speak more about home charging and what he thinks the Government should do to promote it, particularly in rural areas?

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that I will make some remarks on that issue and particularly on what can be done. He is right: according to the RAC, the cost of home charging for a rapid vehicle is about 13p per kWh, yet those who use public chargers have seen a 91% increase to something like just over £3 per kWh. That is quite a big discrepancy. Although we have seen progress on on-street charging, the reality of home charging is important.

I want to make some key asks of the Government, some of which will involve direct Government intervention and some of which will involve Government pressure on local authorities to set targets. My first direct ask of the Government is a lobbying point for the Budget. As my right hon. Friend the Minister will know, there is currently a huge discrepancy between the VAT charged when people charge electric vehicles away from home and that charged when people charge them at home. The VAT on public charging is currently 20%, so the inequality between home charging and away-from-home charging is a major impediment. Will the Government look, not only in the forthcoming Budget but in future Budgets, at equalising the VAT rates for on-street away-from-home charging and home charging?

There also needs to be a change in the planning presumptions. We all agree that we need more on-street and on-site parking in terms of retail leisure parks and new in-town developments. The presumption should now be that any and all development comes with the right infrastructure that will allow a far greater number of not only charging points but rapid charging points for electric vehicles. That requires the Government to put some pressure on local authorities, or my right hon. Friend the Minister to work with his colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to change the planning presumption.

Currently, local authorities are responsible for deciding the locations in their area and securing funding for the delivery of on-street parking. The clear problem at the moment is that only 28% of local authorities have complied with the requirement to have an electric vehicle charging strategy. As I have said, even fewer are working with the large number of infrastructure funds and the providers of funds that would happily work in public-private partnership to work out the number of charging points that can be easily delivered in one year. Some local authorities have made huge progress on that—for example, under its previous Conservative leadership, Wandsworth worked with a major supplier to deliver a huge increase in on-street parking.

Local authorities need to have a strategy and to commit to work with the people who can supply the funding, so one of my asks of the Government is that, with the Department for Transport and DLUHC working together, they put some pressure on authorities to have such a plan in place. We should be pretty clear about what those plans cover: they should cover, as I said, the change in planning presumption and commit to an increase in on-street capacity.

The plans should contain another commitment. Let me address directly the points made by my hon. Friend Dr Poulter. All too often, local byelaws prevent home charging. We allow a huge number of utility companies to put wires and pipes across streets, and they do so safely; one of the great local campaigns I have run in my area is to change a local byelaw to allow people to run cables safely across pavements. It could easily be done, via either cable gullies or other protective measures, to allow people to home-charge who do not have access either to off-street parking—because they do not have their own driveway—or to on-street public facilities. A simple change in the byelaw could easily be applied. There are of course safety challenges and public liability challenges, but the reality is that we let utility companies do it every day of the week, all over the country, and a simple change in byelaws would allow a huge number of extra people to access charging infrastructure.

I am trying to set out how, if we want to make the movement to electric vehicles a reality, there are some things in respect of which we as a country need to change the presumption and the DFT and colleagues in DLUHC need to change the culture. I have set out a number of asks for the Government. Changing the byelaws and planning permission is a relatively simple thing they could work on.

Finally, the Government need to think carefully about the 300,000 target. I accept that it is ambitious and difficult to achieve; however, in the second half of this decade, as the culture among vehicle owners moves more rapidly as price barriers are removed and production levels go up, it may well be that the target of 300,000 public charge points is simply inadequate. I ask the Government to commit to looking at that internally in the Department, and to make a written public statement on the need to be more flexible with the target and possibly to increase it.

I said that I would try to concentrate my remarks because we had a wide-ranging debate less than two weeks ago on the expansion of infrastructure, including in respect of home infrastructure, off-street parking, on-street parking in residential areas and on-site parking in non-residential areas. Removing the barriers to the expansion of those facilities would dramatically increase the opportunity for more people to switch to electric vehicles. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport) 4:16, 7 March 2023

It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard, not least because you are a man educated in Hereford. It is a pleasure to respond to the interesting comments made by my dear hon. Friend Stephen Hammond. I congratulate him on the indefatigable way in which he has pressed this issue in this Chamber and in the House of Commons over the years on behalf of his constituents in Wimbledon. He is absolutely right that the issue is important and has wider repercussions. I thank other colleagues who have made interventions in the debate.

It is interesting that this debate follows not just the debate that my hon. Friend mentioned, which took place a few weeks ago, but this morning’s 90-minute debate on rural decarbonisation, secured by my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby. That is testament to the level of concern and interest among our colleagues in the House.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon knows, the Government are committed to achieving their climate change obligations. Decarbonising transport is a key part of that. I hope we will make some important announcements fairly shortly about the zero emission vehicle mandate, which will be a massive driver of investment in new charge points and new electric vehicles. We are doing that not only to help to decarbonise the atmosphere but to improve air quality and the quality of life in our towns and cities, while supporting a sustainable path of economic growth. We are committed to phasing out the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and to ensuring that all new cars and vans are zero emission by 2035. We have already put in something like £2 billion to support the transition process.

As part of that process, almost a year ago the Government published their landmark electric vehicle infrastructure strategy, which comprehensively set out their vision and commitments in this policy area. In particular, the strategy put in place an expectation of around 300,000 public charge points—not just charge points, as my hon. Friend said, but public charge points. That is important because sitting alongside that are hundreds of thousands of charge points being put into private premises through the normal process of investment that goes alongside the purchase of electric vehicles. That may happen under a previously funded scheme or come as part of the package of buying the vehicle or via a number of other methods. Even that 300,000 is just a part of the overall picture. My hon. Friend is right to flag the ambition inherent in the target. As technology changes, as the market becomes more competitive and as the zero emission vehicle mandate kicks in, we expect that target to come into view.

Photo of Alan Mak Alan Mak Conservative, Havant

The Minister will know that throughout history the use of technology has accelerated when there is greater interoperability, common standards and open protocols. Does he feel that is an important aspect of our race to increase the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in this country?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Yes. I do not think there is any doubt about that, and my hon. Friend is right that that has been the pattern in the past. Of course, one cannot just regard technology as a panacea. Technology will improve, and it will stimulate competition and increase growth at certain rates, but one has to be careful as to what the rate is. There is a moment in all market development at which markets go from being a collection of competing standards and potential franchises to becoming a standardised, all-embracing place in which different rivals can compete. That is what we are seeing with charging. We are seeing individual networks yielding over time to networks that can be accessed using credit cards, for example, in a network-neutral way. The Department is supporting that.

It is worth pointing out that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon highlighted, local authorities are going to be and will remain a central part of the nearer-to-home provision for charging, and possibly the nearer-to-business provision. What there will be less of in some areas is rapid charging on the public strategic road network, because that has different demands and is being handled in a slightly different way.

On 21 February, the Government announced an additional £56 million in public industry funding to support the local electric vehicle infrastructure programme, which includes a capability pilot designed to improve local authorities’ capacity to commission and implement the infrastructure, recognising the concern that there was not necessarily a completely consistent picture of expertise or capability on the local authority network. In turn, that capability will enable what my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon rightly pressed the Government on. He asked whether we will continue to incentivise, encourage and press local authorities to do more; of course, we can do that as their capabilities improve.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

My right hon. Friend the Minister is clearly right about what the Government should be pressing local authorities to do. Given that they are giving additional funding for the capacity for local authorities to outline their strategy, might it not be good and sensible for the Government to ensure that there is a timeline for when local authorities should have strategies in place?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

We can look to the incentives provided by public funding and public pressure, and pressure from car owners, to drive that process. I would not rule out a more engaged attitude towards local authorities. Indeed, I have met plenty of local authorities in the relatively short time I have been in this job, precisely because I regard charge point infrastructure provision as a very serious issue. It is one that involves not only the charge point operators and the electricity providers but the local authorities themselves, as the providers of infrastructure. I take on board my hon. Friend’s point. The funding I have described sits alongside funding already being provided through the on-street residential charge point scheme.

I have talked a little about rapid charging; I do not need to spend too much more time on that. It does not directly affect the situation. Members will be aware that the current situation is that a driver is never more than 25 miles away from a rapid charge point. We need to increase and accelerate the level of charge points we have put in and we have a commitment to do so, to around 6,000 ultra-rapid devices by 2035.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

My right hon. Friend is incredibly generous to give way again. I made a glaring omission in my remarks. Although he rightly says that rapid charging points are perhaps the next follow-on, the reality is that rapid charging points are hugely important for commercial vehicle transition to electric vehicles, including in respect of taxi cabs and others. I had some remarks to make about that but somehow missed them out. We speak a lot about domestic vehicles, but we need to recognise the transition in commercial activity as well.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend is right to make that adjustment. I assumed that, given the confines of a Westminster Hall debate, he was compressing an otherwise comprehensive speech into a narrower compass, and rightly so.

Given the time available, let me pick up on a couple of things before I have to sit down. To strengthen consumer confidence, the Government will lay legislation in the coming months to reduce charging anxiety still further. To address the point made by my hon. Friend Alan Mak, that legislation will mandate open data; 99% reliability across each rapid charging network; a 24/7 helpline for when something might go wrong; contactless and payment roaming; and a pricing network to improve and increase transparency. That will improve competition rivalry and therefore investment. We have also made significant further investment.

Jim Shannon asked about changing planning permissions for developments. He is not in his place, but I should say that last year the Government implemented legislation to require new builds and buildings undergoing renovations to install charging points for domestic and non-domestic vehicles during construction. Part of the solution is not just further public investment alongside the rapidly escalating private investment; it is also about better regulation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon asked about the Budget and VAT on charging. As a former Financial Secretary to the Treasury I remind him that, as he will know, I will be skinned if I attempt to commit the Government on this issue, least of all in respect of tax policy a few days before a fiscal event. But I am sure it is on the public record and it will be well noted in No. 1 Horse Guards.

My hon. Friend talked about pressure on local authorities with regard to long-term plans. It is right that good local authorities think about longer-term plans. Not all the infrastructure originally installed was long term in its inspiration; it was an early technology that has since been superseded. I think local authorities are getting better. We have plans to assist local government in thinking about gullies, which are a useful long-term way to providing for on-street charging that will make a big difference.

My hon. Friend Dr Poulter asked about home charging in rural areas. He is right that such areas suffer particular drawbacks, but they have the advantage that there tends to be more available parking space there for people who buy electric vehicles. We would expect to see that as we see more longevity improvements in technology, but that then requires people to be able to charge. That capability is increasingly provided as part of the commercial package of buying a vehicle. As we see technology and competition take over, we can expect the price of vehicles to fall over time. I believe that the problem my hon. Friend raised will start to address itself over and above the considerable investments that we are already making.

Question put and agreed to.