Yorkshire being let down by patchy EV charge point rollout - Sophie Flinders

To reach net zero, and to insulate drivers and the wider public from the kind of price spikes we’ve seen over the last two years, we need to transition to a transport system based on electric vehicles (EVs). While this transition is needed for a greener and more equitable future, it hasn’t come without obstacles.

One challenge which has garnered attention in recent years is the huge disparities between different parts of the country in terms of EV charge points. As new findings from the think tank Common Wealth demonstrate, access to charge points across the country is deeply unequal, with a vast North-South divide. Westminster Council, for example, has 2693 public charging points, more than Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne, Portsmouth and Southampton combined.

Leeds in comparison has just 108 charge points. Across Yorkshire, the numbers of public charge points remain just a fraction of those of more affluent London boroughs standing at 830 for Yorkshire and the Humber, 158 for South Yorkshire, 401 for West Yorkshire and 82 for North Yorkshire (by April 2023, when the metropolitan country was abolished). While some of London’s best-off boroughs rank highly on charge points – many other parts of the city fare far less well. Newham, for instance, has less than a tenth of the charge points of Hammersmith and Fulham. This risks a scenario in which some parts of the country are set to benefit far more than others.

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As Common Wealth’s analysis argues, the roll-out of EV infrastructure has resulted in stark inequalities, leaving ‘EV deserts’ across much of the country. By leaving much of this roll-out to market forces we have been left in a context where ‘levelling up’ is made harder.

An electric vehicle charge point. PIC: PAAn electric vehicle charge point. PIC: PA
An electric vehicle charge point. PIC: PA

On the current trend, we are on track to fall short of the government’s target of 300,000 charge points by 2030, with projections indicating we will be 100,000 charge points short. The areas most impacted by this shortfall are likely to be those already being let down, including areas across Yorkshire.

While state support for councils to roll-out charge points exists, the current approach has led to slow and uneven progress. Only two-thirds of councils have accessed the government’s On-Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS) grant, and just 49 out of 317 have tapped into the newer Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund. This underutilisation of resources indicates an alternative approach is needed.

The search for reliable alternatives does not require us to look far, however. Scotland presents a contrasting picture of success. By embracing a publicly led model for rolling out EV charge points, Transport Scotland has built a robust network of rapid charge points, resulting in the highest number of fast charge points in the UK, relative to its population. This publicly led approach has proven more effective in encouraging EV adoption and ensuring a much fairer distribution of EV infrastructure.

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Scotland’s success points to a critical lesson for achieving a fair transition – public investment, ownership and coordination are all tools which can make the shift to net zero more equitable and ensure communities are not left behind.

Drawing on the lessons from Scotland, Common Wealth’s analysis proposes the creation of a new publicly owned entity, ‘Great British Charging Points’, which should be tasked with investing in underserved regions and areas, including those left behind within comparatively more affluent cities or regions.

Not only this, but an entity like Great British Charging Points can also potentially generate a new revenue stream for the public purse through charging access fees.

Sophie Flinders is a data analyst at Common Wealth.

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