EV charging networks are tied up in red tape – here’s how to cut it to shreds

The UK needs to speed up its EV infrastructure roll-out but is being held back by outdated planning rules, says Asif Ghafoor, CEO of Be.EV

We’ve just hit the milestone of one million EVs on the road and the die has been cast that electric vehicles are the way forward. It’s an exciting time for those building and maintaining EV charging networks, but it’s also an immensely challenging one.

Despite the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, there are still only 55,000 public chargers and most of them are in London or other city centres. We’re in danger of falling short of the government’s target of 300,000 public chargers by 2030, because there are a number of hurdles that stand in the way.

Not only do we have an outdated National Grid and limited electricity supply, but there is also far too much bureaucracy stopping the private sector from putting chargers in the right places. This can be fixed, but it requires a change in thinking from those in charge of our EV charging policies.

The right chargers in the right place

The proposed Rapid Charging Fund (RCF) contains a commitment of £70 million from the government to install ultra-rapid EV charge points (that charge an average EV in less than 30 minutes) at motorways as part of a pilot scheme. While it’s admirable to see the government acknowledge we need more ultra-rapid charging, the logic behind this scheme is misguided.

There is nowhere near enough space at motorway service stations or enough chargers to match current or future demand for EV chargers, and even if there was, the National Grid is not well-equipped to provide the power necessary for these charging hubs. Central government needs to be more flexible and realise that we don’t need all our ultra-rapid charging hubs to be on motorways. This sort of forecourt logic dates back to the 1950s and is in need of a refresh.

Instead, we should turn our attention to the convenient en-route and easy stop-off areas surrounding our motorway junctions. There is plenty of land here that is well-connected enough to the National Grid to have EV charging, but is currently not used. Farmers and other landowners have an opportunity to make additional income by leasing this land for chargers and taking a share of the resulting revenue. Furthermore, ultra-rapid hubs on this land would give us more chargers that can serve local communities, and fewer National Grid headaches.

Planning pain

However, this is where we encounter another problem – the process of getting permission to use this land is painfully slow. At Be.EV, we have a huge backlog of applications for planning permission to build chargers on unused land that can support communities with low levels of off-street parking, but find it incredibly difficult to get the ball rolling.

From first contact, it often takes up to 18 months to get chargers in the ground due to the administrative hurdles we have to jump through to get planning permission from landowners and local authorities. In the past we have spent money on applications only to be told that the local authority doesn’t have the resources to consider applications, or it takes so long that by the time it comes through our power applications have expired, meaning we have wasted time and capital.

The reality is we’re providing an important service that is directly facilitating the achievement of government targets, while also covering the whole cost of installation and maintenance of these chargers, so why is it that there are so many hoops we have to jump through?

We’ve seen legislation change for important infrastructure projects in the past. For example, the government recently changed laws on the installation of telecom masts to streamline their roll-out – for any masts under 15m tall, local authorities must approve their construction within 56 days unless there is a good reason to reject it. The government has clearly made the rollout of a public EV charging infrastructure a priority, so it’s confusing that the process for EV charging hasn’t been streamlined in a similar way.

If the government enacts similar changes, we can form more public-private partnerships to help achieve their green targets and bring the benefits of EV charging to communities across the country.

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Matt Allan

Matt is Editor of EV Powered. He has worked in journalism for more than 20 years and been an automotive journalist for the last decade, covering every aspect of the industry, from new model reveals and reviews to consumer and driving advice. The former motoring editor of inews.co.uk, The Scotsman and National World, Matt has watched the EV landscape transform beyond recognition over the last 10 years and developed a passion for electric vehicles and what they mean for the future of transport - from the smallest city cars to the biggest battery-powered trucks. When he’s not driving or writing about electric cars, he’s figuring out how to convert his classic VW camper to electric power.