LGA response: Future of transport regulatory review: zero emission vehicles, 22 November 2021

The LGA has written a response to the Office of Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) Future of transport regulatory review: zero emission vehicles consultation on whether there should be a statutory obligation to plan and deliver a charging infrastructure.


Introduction

1. About the Local Government Association

1.1. The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically-led, cross party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales. Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.

2. Summary

2.1. Councils are very keen to support a shift to zero emission vehicles to help reduce carbon and improve air quality. On-street charging will play an important role in this and more information and clarity is needed. Councils await the EV Infrastructure Strategy for more details and welcome the announcement about encouraging more provision of off-street parking announced by the Prime Minister on 22 November are welcome.

2.2. Government needs to recognise in its engagement with local government that authorities are diverse in the powers and responsibilities they hold, e.g. districts and county councils or London Boroughs and Transport for London.

2.3. Councils want to do more and see a greater investment in EV charging networks but are hampered by a number of issues:

2.4. Competing priorities and limited resources

  • Lack of funding and funding flexibility. Funding at the moment is small scale, short term and does not address revenue needs for capability and capacity.
  • The evidence to date is that the marketplace for commercial investment for on-street charging provision remains weak.
  • Lack of joined up guidance and expert support for councils – such as technical and procurement guidance.
  • Factors that are outside of council control, such as the maturity of the commercial marketplace and ability to engage and influence district network operators (DNOs)

2.5. The LGA does not believe a statutory duty placed on councils is the way forward. However, if the Government did decide to go ahead with a statutory obligation then councils will need to be properly funded and compensated for new burdens.

2.6. We believe there are better ways forward for councils, government, and business to work together to deliver the EV chargepoint network to support the transition.

  • The £620 million identified in the spending review should be allocated to councils and done so with maximum long-term certainty and local flexibility. It should be accompanied by adequate revenue funding to secure local capacity and capability.
  • There are other approaches that better incentivise councils to invest in EV charging infrastructure. The approaches taken by DfT for cycling, walking and buses are good starting points.
  • Future EV chargepoint infrastructure investment at the local level should be developed in the context of overarching Local Transport Plans, and the wider decarbonisation opportunities that are identified.

2.7. A more collaborative approach is needed over the long-term between local and central government in the design of any national strategies, plans and funding schemes to help ensure faster and more effective delivery and better value for money for taxpayers.

3. Response

3.1 Earlier this year the LGA commissioned research from Local Partnerships to get the views from local authorities about the On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS). This research, including surveys and discussions, provides the background for this response. The work was commissioned on the back of discussions with the Office for Zero Emission Veh about potential reforms to the current system for EV chargepoint rollout. In response to this particular consultation, the LGA organised a roundtable in early November with 20 officers from a wide range of local authorities leading on EV chargepoint infrastructure in their area.

4. The lack of a duty to plan or provide EV chargepoint infrastructure is not the barrier to rollout

4.1. On balance, the LGA is opposed to creating a statutory duty to plan for EV chargepoints, and more firmly opposed to the creation of a statutory duty to provide EV chargepoints.

4.2. The barrier to action is not around a lack of ambition but around the lack of funding and capacity within councils, and practical and political barriers to on-street chargepoints such as narrow pavements and existing parking challenges.

4.3. Compulsion will not reduce these barriers.

4.4. The Local Partnerships research identified ten positive actions government could take to overcome these barriers and enable more authorities to go faster on EV rollout:

  • to clearly articulate the national roll-out strategy for EV charging and the specific role to be played by councils. This should be supported by forecasts of requirement / targets for areas
  • to provide national leadership on the issue of technology selection
  • if OZEV want to increase the pace of delivery, revenue and capital resource will need to be provided
  • to move away from the stop/start short term funding arrangement to a longer term 'outcome' based approach to funding, with the potential for this to be allocated based on predicted need, rather than competitively
  • to strengthen relationships between Subnational Transport Bodies (STBs) and housing and planning authorities, if OZEV see STBs as important to future delivery
  • to provide access to data in areas including market data, location modelling, delivery model choice, procurement and technology guidance
  • in the forthcoming (Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)/Cenex) guidance, to identify criteria for selecting the best technology for a particular location (which should include dumb gullies)
  • to make use of the LGA and STBs to support and enable knowledge sharing.
    • In addition, there were a number of areas identified where local authorities would welcome more support and/or guidance, including:
      • procurement, including best practice and template documents
      • use of data, including sharing of demand models and existing local authority data sources that can be used
      • member education and training on issues relating to EV
      • use of the pavement.

4.5. So far, none of these suggestions from July have, to our knowledge, been addressed, although the forthcoming technical guidance is now available as a draft. This Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy also promises to set out the roles of local authorities and stakeholder in providing charging infrastructure.

4.6. A well-funded and fiscally empowered local government would be a much stronger partner for national government to deliver their shared ambition on EV, alongside every other duty imposed on local government. Such a scenario would enable councils to fund staff to access ORCS funding. It would also enable local authorities to raise funding to pursue options for increasing EV charging infrastructure currently excluded from ORCS funding, e.g. EV chargepoints for car club parking spaces to displace private vehicles.

4.7. In London, authorities have a stronger EV chargepoint market and institutions in place through TfL and London Councils to help overcome these barriers. Chargepoint Operators (CPOs) see high potential user fees due to high levels of on-street parking and EV ownership. They can fund local authorities to overcome the financial barriers to rollout. And local authorities in the capital can draw upon pooled capacity and knowledge that institutions operating across a city of nine million can draw together. The same cannot be said for the vast majority of places that cannot benefit from London’s density and scale.

5. Councils must remain in control of EV chargepoint infrastructure on public land

5.1. Local authorities must maintain the lead responsibility for any EV chargepoint infrastructure on public land. Highways and Transport Authorities must retain control over decisions affecting access to the kerb, use of the pavement and parking.

5.2. When local authorities lose control of shared public infrastructure this can cause unintended consequences. The Electronic Communications Code in the Digital Infrastructure Act 2017 enables mobile network operators easier access to street furniture more easily. In some areas, competing demands for lampposts from EV charging and 5G aerials are coming into conflict with one another, as well as impacting on the basic function of the lamppost to the light the street due to demands on power, and less crucially, their role in supporting Christmas lighting.

5.3. It makes little sense for any organisation other than the local authority to take control of the roll out of EV chargepoint infrastructure in order to ensure decisions are focused on improving place.

6. The impact of a duty on EV chargepoint infrastructure rollout is entirely contingent on the definitions and metrics used

6.1. If new duties are imposed on local authorities to rollout EV chargepoint infrastructure without addressing the practical barriers set out above, then its impact is contingent upon how ‘sufficient’ is defined or by whom.

6.2. Local authorities have many duties, including the responsibility to plan and provide public transport. For example, they must:

6.3. secure the provision of such public passenger transport services as the council consider it appropriate to secure to meet any public transport requirements within the county which would not in their view be met apart from any action taken by them for that purpose. Transport Act 1985, Section 63(1)(a)

6.4. A lack of funding for local government has left this duty somewhat of a dead letter. What is appropriate is what can be afforded in competition with other demands on revenue spending. In a number of local authorities, bus subsidy has been cut to zero.

6.5. A duty to plan and provide chargepoint infrastructure without overcoming the practical barriers local authorities face will sit alongside other duties of local government that are unfunded by central government. If it is up to local authorities to define sufficient without additional funding, the Government should expect the new duty to have very limited impact on the rollout of EV chargepoint infrastructure.

6.6. If the duty is however prescriptive and enforced, then local authorities will have to cut elsewhere, perhaps less money for bus services or potholes, to spend on EV chargepoints. To remain revenue neutral, local authorities that lack the capacity to effectively engage in contracts or manage them in areas with weak returns will see the network effectively privatised with long-leases in the prime sites, restricting the potential use-changes of those sites and leaving location and procurement decisions entirely up to the market.

6.7. The definitions are crucial. Government should have engaged early and openly with local government about the outcomes it wishes to see with public EV charging. This discussion should precede consideration of an imposition of a duty for planning or provision of unknown severity, over an unknown time period, with an unknown funding arrangement within an unpublished national strategy.

6.8. Some local authorities may hope that if there were to be new duties then this would bring with it extra funding as a ‘new burden’ but, as we have seen in other service areas, these are at risk of being reduced by future governments.

7. Work with local government

7.1. The Government’s approach to creating national strategies for walking and cycling and buses takes a much more logical and productive path despite the intense pressure placed on councils by them. While by no means perfect, these strategies have clear outcomes, outputs that are largely defined, inputs set out including both revenue and capital funding and timelines, and an analysis on the barriers to local government action listened to. Local authorities know what the Government wants and can make local plans suited to their circumstances in line with the national strategy and focused on delivery. This creates the room for local plans to be made that understand what government wants.

7.2. The changes to ORCS conditions in recent years shows that when OZEV works with local government improvements can be made. Allowing the use of funding in car parks, changing the profile of funding, increasing the maximum size of funding and lengthening delivery timescales have all improved the fund. We believe that local government is an indispensable partner of central government when it comes to delivering transport decarbonisation. Central government co-designing with councils from the start would have helped central and local government deliver on their shared ambitions, for example through ORCS.

7.3. Government should consider local authorities not currently applying for ORCS funding as providing clear feedback on the design of that scheme and the barriers local authorities face. Non take-up of ORCS scheme does not mean that councils are unwilling to support the roll-out of EV infrastructure to meet demand, but will have views on how the ORCS scheme and any future funding could be improved.

7.4. Local authorities have said repeatedly that they are unclear what central government wants from them: their role, how many EV chargepoints there should be, and where. Despite this, OZEV appear to have concluded that local authorities are failing against these or some other metrics, and are now considering compelling them to act.  Central government should not remove local autonomy and impose new duties on local authorities for failing against unknown criteria under almost impossible financial conditions.

8. The value of local determination

8.1. The current barriers to roll out mean that action at scale has large downsides and but postponing action has major upsides in many areas. An enforced duty to plan and provide will force authorities to realise the costs, but not necessarily the benefits.

8.2. As the consultation recognises, many councils are planning their network while others are not. Those local authorities that are setting the pace and innovating on EV chargepoints should be regarded as an important asset in that they will be able to provide vital learning and best practice for other areas, particularly to those other areas where the business case for investment will take longer to develop. Waiting until the time for investment is right, rather than rushing is a sensible and prudent option when the option value is so high. For example, rushing to spend on EV charging where the returns are uncertain, than, for example, spending on potholes where the return is certain, is likely to be a less effective use of public money.

8.3. The returns on exercising prudence are significant, not just for the market and technology but to get clarity on central government policy. A decision on whether there should be a statutory obligation, on councils, or any other bodies, is premature whilst further data and government guidance is still being developed:

a) The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy due by the end of this year

b ) New Local Transport Plans as required by the Transport Decarbonisation Plan

c) Full details of the plans for an iconic chargepoint/s intended to become the gold standard should be published

d) A final version of the technical guidance to be published by the IET and Cenex is due

e) Guidance on disabled access with Motability set to be published

f) Proposals for further regulation of the consumer experience for EVs, adding to the benefits of the contactless scheme that has impacted on older models

g) Improvements to the ORCS programme recommended by local authorities

h) Reform by Ofgem of pricing for DNOs to bring down the prohibitive costs of installation in many areas

i) More data on the quality and durability of different chargepoint models

j) More data on impact of lamppost charging

k) Uptake of EVs growing in local markets

l) Understanding of consumer EV charging behaviour

8.4. Forcing councils to push EV chargepoint infrastructure to the front of the funding queue forces other priorities also set by government further back. Without extra funding a duty is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

8.5. Forcing local authorities to act now while so much is changing risks a small uptick in EV chargepoint infrastructure in the short term but at the cost of faster and better infrastructure in the near future.

9. A positive approach

9.1. It is welcome that £620 million has been promised to EV charging infrastructure over the spending review. To help use that money as effectively as possible, government should urgently act to:

  • Pause any plans to imposing more duties on local government
  • Open up the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy draft for consultation with local government as an indispensable partner on its delivery.
  • Make clear if government has ambitions for rollout to particular areas that these are shared with local government including timescales
  • Make funding appropriate for these ambitions available to local authorities
  • Learn from the Walking and Cycling and Bus Strategies and how funding is made contingent on the commitment to local investment plans.

Contact

Kamal Panchal/ Simon Jeffrey
Senior Adviser/ Adviser
Mobile: 0771 7572640/ 0792 1604229
Email: [email protected]/ [email protected]