Essex councils need to engage to improve on poor electric vehicle uptake

Essex local authorities need to draw on their impressive networking capabilities to improve the county’s poor electric vehicle uptake, which is among the worst in the country, according to new research.

The comments from New AutoMotive, a transport research group supporting the uptake of electric vehicles in the UK, comes amid figures showing Essex has the second worst uptake of EVs in the UK – which along with Lancashire saw an uptake rate of just six per cent in July 2021.

Only Northern Ireland has a worse rate.

The drive towards electric vehicles is among the key factors in determining whether Essex and ultimately the UK can meet its net zero commitments by 2050.

The Essex Climate Change Commission has set out its own goals that Essex should meet by then – including replacing every single gas boiler with a hydrogen model.

But with transport responsible for 27 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is essential that travel is decarbonised if Essex meets the UK’s climate commitments.

Congestion on Essex roads is an “environmental disaster”, the commission has said, and economically is costing local businesses billions.

In 2017, more than £37.7bn in the UK was lost, directly and indirectly, through traffic congestion. This amounts to an average of £1,168 per driver.

For a county like Essex, with landscape that is 72 per cent rural, to shift away from fossil fuelled engines presents specific challenges, the commission adds.

Petrol cars in the county make up about 56 per cent of new sales.

Ben Nelmes, head of policy and research at New AutoMotive, said the low uptake could be to do with large distances people are travelling.

He said: “I would imagine it would largely be that the places where we see high take up are places where the distances people drive are very low – London for example gets a very high take up and electric cars are very suitable for people who live in London because they don’t drive very far so charging is less of an issue.

“So one thing is to get the infrastructure right and it is good to see Essex County Council is making electric vehicle infrastructure a priority.

“The other thing is that in places where there is high level of uptake we often see local authorities have gone out of their way to promote the benefits of electric vehicle ownership.

“For example Coventry City Council has done all sorts including public information promoting the fuel cost savings of owning an electric vehicle which is not understood by a lot of people.

“If there was one bit I think that Essex County Council could add to their plan – though largely it looks good – is they should try to work with local car dealerships in Essex and do that public information piece so people can have it explained the benefits of EV ownership.”

In Oxfordshire one in five new cars being purchased is now electric, in London 16 per cent of cars sold are fully electric and in the north east 14 per cent of new cars are now electric.

While seeing low uptake of fully electric cars, Essex is seeing some of the strongest sales nationally of hybrid.

Mr Nelmes added: “But we also see a continued and worrying growth in hybrid sales. Hybrids are not net zero vehicles, and we are concerned that customers are paying over the odds for a technology that will soon be outdated.

“This is further evidence that the UK needs a strong California-style system that enables people to access the benefits of fully electric vehicles.”

He added that not having good charging coverage everywhere will also hinder EV uptake everywhere even if a particular authority has good infrastructure in place.

He added: “Local authorities need to make decisions based around the evidence where charge points need to go. There is nothing worse with a charging network that is huge but is in all in the wrong places.”

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “Essex County Council has taken a proactive approach to promoting greater public uptake of electric vehicles.

“In partnership with energy firm Electric Blue, we have installed four new electric charging points at the Sandon and Chelmer Valley Park and Ride sites at no cost to taxpayers with drivers able to pay using a mobile app.

“In 2019 Innovate UK awarded Essex County Council, GRIDSERVE, Brunel University and Upside Energy £5.3m to develop and deliver UK’s first Electric Forecourt on the A120 just past Braintree.

“The Forecourt, which includes 24 electric charging bays, on-site battery storage and a solar powered canopy, opened in December 2020.

“The project means we can support community engagement, awareness and education, as well as promote a low-carbon agenda and electric vehicle ownership across the region.

“We have also helped promote the DfT’s Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS), a scheme which provides up to £350 towards a home electric vehicle chargepoint and the Workplace Charging Scheme (WCS) for small and medium sized businesses and the charity sector.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter