Town Planners Play Vital Role in the EV’s Prospects

In the UK many streets in cities and towns are lined with terraced houses.

Only some are fortunate to have enough space to create a small ‘driveway’, a forecourt parking space off-road. The problem is that Section 184 of the Highways Act 1980 disallows people to drive across a pavement to reach it. In Maidstone, Kent, for example, this means there is a need to get planning consent from Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) and from Kent County Council for a vehicular crossover via a dropped curbstone.

Now, when it comes to planning, quite often the two requirement do not meet up. For example, not so long ago a resident gained planning permission for a driveway and KCC raised no objections to it. However, later on it raised objections to it on the basis that the proposed driveway’s surface area was too small, despite a neighbor already having a dropped curb and being able to park on a similarly sized parking area in front of their own Victorian terraced house. Unlike in many other areas of law, precedent isn’t considered.

To make things more bizarrely complex, MBC refuses to remove a parking space at the front of the house. Yet it has been building new properties on existing car parks. Another reason for KCC denying vehicle access in front of the property is a line of sight argument. This is also odd because more line of sight would be gained by removing a vehicle from the road and whenever the householder parks on the road he or she has to cope with the existence of no line of sight.

Conflicting arguments

Arguably conflicting arguments like this will not only prevent these curb access points from being installed, they will also forestall the adoption of electric cars. Why?  Because most owners would prefer to charge up on their own property without paying the higher parking and charging fees on public charge points set some distance from their homes. The ideal situation would be, wherever it is feasible, for more householders to be allowed vehicular access so that they could installed their own charging points outside of their homes.

At present in the UK, the focus of councils and the government is on installing EV charging points in public car parks and at service stations. Yet, to make these cars more attractive, people’s home must surely become part of the charging infrastructure.

Charging provision

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy at the Automobile Association (AA), believes that councils aren’t always helping themselves: “Taking your case in particular, where a local authority doesn’t want to permit a dropped curb to be installed, the question should immediately be: what are you going to provide? They could increase the number of charging points on the pavements. Lots of councils have been rightly advised by charities of blind and sighted people that increase street clutter is not helpful. If I think about Guide Dogs for the Blind, they have said that the wires for EV charging pose a trip hazard.

“Having more things on the pavement, such as a bulky charging points, will encroach on the amount of pavement space. So, if there was an opportunity to have those dropped curbs, remove the issues for the local authority, that on the face of it seems like a good solution. If the local authority doesn’t want to permit the drop curb for reasons such as line of sight or conservation areas, then residents should be asking their local authority what they can do to ensure they can charge their vehicle.”

Old street designs

Councillor David Burton, chairman of the joint transportation board, at MBC comments: “The inhibiting factor is a result of the old street designs, including terraced streets that were designed in the era of the horse.” He says that funding for the installation of charging points is another limiting factor at present. Yet solutions such as lamp post charging are available for on-street charging. He also predicts that the issue of parking and charging up electric vehicles will be solved in the near future when autonomous vehicles will, he explains, take themselves to central charging areas, which will in turn relieve on-street parking pressure.

A spokesperson from the Local Government Association (LGA) adds: “Charging infrastructure will always be dependent on the supply of vehicles. Councils and government do not have the funds to make large amounts of charging available before the commercial case for it is justified. There is also significant fragmentation of the charging industry. Councils have reported to us that there are a large number of providers in the field with different commercial models and it can be difficult to understand what will be needed.”

The LGA says the UK government has consulted on change to building regulations “to ensure that new builds and significant renovations involve making building electric vehicle ready.” It also reveals that appropriate citing of on-street is being continually developed and stresses that it’s important to install the charging infrastructure at the right pace. “If we go too fast, we could end up with a large amount of stranded infrastructure,” said its spokesperson.

Balancing needs

With regards to terraced houses, the LGA spokesperson says terraced houses are usually too small, while declaring that councils have a duty to balance “the needs of all road users including pedestrians and cyclists”. That may be true but most people who park on their driveways don’t inhibit pedestrians from using the paths – whether they have an authorized dropped curb or not.

The LGA spokesperson nevertheless comments: “We cannot reallocate large amounts of curbside space to charging infrastructure that may not be needed in the long term depending on how the model for transport and car ownership develops in inner city locations.” Beyond this, there is a need to have a commercially viable charging network. The view is that the autonomous car era may see the end of the personal car ownership in favor of an Uber-like or shared mobility experience. Yet there may be a number of people who will wish to hold onto the convenience of owning their own vehicles.

Wholesale regulatory reform

Whatever will be the reality, the increasing likelihood is that the future of connected and autonomous vehicles will be electric. Lis Blunsdon, energy regulatory partner at law firm Fieldfisher, believes there is a will to ensure the existence of more charging points. She adds that there is still a need for the wholesale regulatory reform of the UK’s energy generation and distribution network, which is based on “anachronistic, centralized systems – controlled by the National Grid and Ofgem, respectively”.

She believes that with regulatory reform, the UK government will be able to match its aims for EV adoption to when and where people use energy. With regards to the question about whether the UK government and local authorities be doing more to install charging points by the roadside, she said: “There is also a fairness question here, in that if the government decides to pay for the installation of charging points with taxes, people who don’t own or drive vehicles will have to subsidize this. While there is an argument that lower emissions and cleaner air benefits everybody, it may be a difficult policy to sell, especially if the UK is likely to face renewed austerity due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis.”

New installations

Thankfully, with ‘new build’ housing the situation is going to be slightly easier. Cousens explains why: “The government is signaling that any new build with an allocated parking place should have a charging point. Any new streetlights on any new development, or where they are replacing any old streetlights, are to be fitted with EV charging capabilities.” While he thinks this is a step forward, the AA wants to see more done to crack the biggest nut of residential charging where, he says, “there are no driveways or no nearby spare land available for a mini charging hub”.

He finds that there are many schools of thought on how to resolve this situation. For now, he says “there is [currently] a need to encourage for people to head for service station charging points on motorways. If it’s several miles away it’s far from ideal. People may make more regular top-ups at supermarkets, and possibly at National Trust locations to accommodate more people.”

EV parking

“Local authorities and some car park companies have different thoughts about how to manage EV parking. Some ramp up the costs, charging double – one machine to pay for parking and another to pay for charging. It’s not clear that you are paying for the charge or for parking. In some places it doesn’t say uniquely what they are paying for. Potentially local trading standards should be advising local authorities and parking companies to make it as easy to understand as possible.”

He comments there is a need to make life simpler: “The public have an expectation that they can pull up to a charging point, waive their chip and PIN, and charge their vehicle. At the moment drivers may have to carry a multitude of membership cars or download a number of apps.” He also thinks this needs to happen right away to achieve significant EV take-up.

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