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Electric Avenue: The role of electric vehicles in the net zero carbon future

Electric Avenue: The role of electric vehicles in the net zero carbon future

Lily Galek & Victoria Barrett-Mudhoo 29 Mar 2022
The UK has committed to Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2050. Transport is currently the largest carbon emitting sector of the UK economy, responsible for 27% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions, and so transition to electric vehicles (EVs) will be one of the most important actions to achieve this target. In May 2019, the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) suggested that all new vehicles should be electrically propelled by 2035, if not sooner, to achieve the Net Zero target. Following this, in November 2020, the Prime Minister announced as part of the Government’s 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution, that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be phased out by 2030 and that all new cars and vans would be zero emission by 2035. This target was then reaffirmed at COP26 in November 2021 when the UK Government alongside other countries, cities, manufacturers, and others committed to the 2035 target for leading markets and globally by 2040.  But how to get there? Great strides are already being taken to achieve this EVs ambition with a variety of initiatives employed to encourage the uptake of EVs. For example, in July 2021, alongside the transport decarbonisation plan, the Government published a 2035 delivery plan which outlines the policies and investments the Government is taking to support the transition to zero emission cars and vans. This includes exemptions from Vehicle Excise Duty (or car tax as most of us know it) and favourable company car tax rates continuing until at least March 2025 alongside an investment of £1.3 billion to accelerate the rollout of charging infrastructure on motorways, on streets, in homes, and in workplaces. Meanwhile, others are also working hard on strategies to ensure that the network grid itself can service the uplift in electricity demand from EVs as they become more common. Another example is ensuring additional capacity for battery manufacturing that are critical to electric cars. Lichfields recently played a central role in securing planning permission, on behalf of Envision AESC UK Ltd, for a new Gigaplant capable of producing world-leading lithium-ion batteries for more than 100,000 EVs per year at the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) in Sunderland. Better infrastructure and extending battery range are key to dealing with issues of ‘range anxiety’ which has been holding EV car ownership back. From a planning and development industry perspective, much of the focus has been on ensuring new development schemes are fit for purpose now and in the future. Most Local Plans have for some time required that car parking provision within new developments includes a proportion of EV spaces, alongside passive provision for future conversion. However, the Government has recently announced its plans to accelerate the installation of electric charging infrastructure across the country. In November 2021, the Government announced what it refers to as ‘world leading regulations’ requiring that new homes and buildings such as supermarkets and workplaces, as well as those undergoing major renovation, install EV charge points from 2022. The details of this are still emerging but reportedly this will ensure up to 145,000 extra charge points will be installed across England each year, helping ready communities for the all-electric future.   But what about existing communities? In the zero-carbon discourse generally there is increasingly a recognition of the importance of retrofitting existing buildings and communities to ensure they are also fit for purpose for the net zero carbon future. A case in point is in the City of Westminster, where as part of its 2040 Climate Emergency Action Plan, it is planning to deliver 1,500 charge points across the city in 2022. Another example is Cotswold District Council which has prepared a Net Zero Carbon Toolkit which includes a section on retrofit to help homeowners looking to implement energy efficiency measures, including steps to plan for EV charging. For individual homes or property assets, permitted development rights can be used to install EV charging infrastructure which meet certain size and height conditions. Schedule 2, Part 2, Class D of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (as amended) states that planning permission is not required for the installation of a wall mounted electrical outlet for recharging of EVs as long as the area is lawfully used for off–street parking. In addition, Class E of the Order allows the installation of an upstand with an electrical outlet mounted on it. Increasingly we are helping our clients that manage existing assets such as shopping centres and industrial parks review the use of these permitted development rights or secure planning permission for charging points where permitted development rights cannot be used. There is still much work to be done. For example, these permitted development rights cannot be used by those who live in a listed building and so planning permission and listed building consent is needed. For some this will be a hurdle too far and so as an industry we need to find a way to make this easier for those affected to embrace EVs whilst protecting the historic environment from unintended harm where listed buildings are concerned. Similarly, for those who don’t have the privilege of off-street parking, alternative solutions need to be found. In some cases, such as in Brighton and Redbridge, lamp post charging points are available but demand in the future is likely to far outstrip supply, and so other options are likely to be needed. On a broad scale, this could include the redevelopment of petrol stations, replacing petrol and diesel pumps with EV charging points alongside the development of entirely new infrastructure stations. In many rural communities, these stations would provide an essential top-up service alongside associated shopping facilities. Infrastructure planning has always been a big part of our work over the last 60 years, whether that’s been assisting with obtaining planning permission for Stansted Airport or our work on new Woodsmith polyhalite mine, the deepest mine in Europe. EVs present an entirely different set of issues and challenges, potentially affecting every street and home in and beyond the UK. The car industry has got the bit between its teeth now with a rush of new models and much extended battery range. The Government has a plan and whilst it’s not clear how it’s all going to be implemented, there is already much momentum behind EVs. Whilst much of the focus has been on ensuring new development schemes are fit for purpose, there is still work to be done to fully embrace EVs and help realise our net zero carbon future.