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Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

Volume 726: debated on Thursday 19 January 2023

As you will know, Mr Speaker, the Government take the issue of accessibility extremely seriously. With the assistance of wider research, we have identified specific accessibility barriers faced by drivers of electric vehicles in using public charge points. Those can include the height of charge points, charging cables that are very heavy, the connectors, and street design. To address those issues, the Government, with Motability, co-sponsored publicly available standard 1899 in October 2022, which provides, for the first time, specifications on designing and installing accessible public charge points.

People who have off-street parking can easily meet the majority of their EV charging needs at home, but people who do not are rightly concerned about access to charging. How will the Government address that issue to ensure that people in Basildon and Thurrock have equitable access?

My hon. Friend will be aware that Essex County Council has been able to use ORCS—the on-street residential charge point scheme—and that there has been support in his area for workplace charging and the home charge scheme. We want to go much further, however, and the new local EV infrastructure fund will support local authorities to do just that. A £10 million LEVI—local electric vehicle infrastructure—pilot is in operation, which will deliver more than 1,000 charge points. We will use that as a springboard for further expansion of the fund.

Councillor Steve Dixon, the portfolio holder at Central Bedfordshire Council, is a big enthusiast of electric vehicles, as I am. Earlier this week, he told me that there are some issues with connectivity to the grid, particularly for the 50 kW superfast 20-minute chargers, which are especially important for tradespeople and delivery drivers who need a quick charge-up during the day. What conversations is the Minister having with National Grid to ensure that it does not hold us back in this vital area?

We take this issue extremely seriously. As my hon. Friend is aware, responsibility lies with the electricity network operators. Ofgem has allowed baseline funding of more than £22 billion, including the more than £3 billion proposed for network upgrades. We need to ensure that that money is put in place and that any blockages are addressed by the distribution network operators. We are also working closely with fleets and industry bodies to ensure that we can anticipate problems before they arise.

I do not know whether the Minister has been on a long journey in an electric car, but you can often travel for dozens of miles—perhaps more than 100—without finding a rapid charger. When you do get to one, you discover that “rapid charger” is a misnomer, because National Grid cannot deliver the necessary power. Even if you get to one that is working, it is often full because of the number of electric cars now on the road, so you end up waiting in a queue for half an hour or more. When will the Government develop a proper national network so that what should be a pleasant day out for motorists does not mean hours of planning in advance and then hours of frustration and delay on the journey?

We recognise that. Those problems had to do with adverse weather conditions, as well as with particular concerns of the season, but there is a wider problem and the hon. Gentleman is right to mention it. That is why in due course we will promote regulations that will require 99% reliability and other standards, as well as transparency across charge points, in order to address some of the points that he raises.

In Northern Ireland, there are 4,000 electric vehicles and 337 charge points. Central Government have assisted and funded charge points in the past. People are unable and unwilling to buy an electric car if there are not enough charge points, so what discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Infrastructure in the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that the number of charge points is increased across the whole of Northern Ireland?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the question. I myself have not recently spoken to the infrastructure board in Northern Ireland, but I shall make a point of doing so in the near future.

This week, I and colleagues hosted leading figures from across the car industry. They are desperate for the UK to lead the world in electric vehicles, but they are banging their head against the wall at the state of the charging infrastructure. In 2019, there were 33 electric vehicles per rapid charger; today there are almost 90 vehicles per charger. Given how critical the charging network is to confidence in the EV market, why on earth are there yet more delays to the botched roll-out of the rapid charging fund? Will the Minister consider using binding targets to speed up the roll-out?

The figures that the hon. Lady has given are a result of the extremely rapid increase in the number of battery electric vehicles, which is welcome and is supported by Government policy. We have supported the provision of more than 400,000 chargers for homes and businesses in the last few years, and, as I have said, we take the issue very seriously. We have the LEVI fund and the rapid charging fund, which I am seeking to accelerate. However, I appreciate the hon. Lady’s point. It is right for us to continue to proceed in tandem with the growth in the sector, all the more so because this year our new zero-emission vehicle mandate will continue to propel the number rapidly upwards, which I think will benefit the public greatly.