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Sat, 4 April 2020

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We must improve infrastructure to speed up Britain’s transition to electric vehicles

We must improve infrastructure to speed up Britain’s transition to electric vehicles
4 min read

It’s time to remove the roadblocks to greener motoring and put Britain at the forefront of facilitating the use of EVs

In May last year, the UK went through a significant landmark. For the first time since 1882, in a continuous seven-day period, this country used no electricity produced from burning coal. For Parliamentarians like me, involved in the APPG on Electric Vehicles, of which I’m vice-chair, this was great news. It showed that electric vehicles can be truly cleaner and even greener.

The goal of cutting net CO2 emissions to zero is something which must exercise all of us. With the COP26 climate summit taking place in Glasgow later this year, I feel strongly that this country should lead the way. Climate change is such a threat that we have to rethink all our priorities and actions. We can give a global lead and it is vital that we do so.

With the Government’s announcement this month that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans should end in 2035 – or earlier if that can be achieved – the race to facilitate the use of electric vehicles is intensifying.

“It is vital that we should have a robust and expanding system of charging points”

Even in a constituency like mine, with a high level of vehicle ownership, there are people who view switching from a petrol or diesel vehicle to electric with trepidation. Whole areas of behaviour have to be altered, from finding a charging point to planning a long-distance trip, getting a vehicle repaired or, finally, disposing of it. The same applies to those operating commercial vehicles, whether in the private or public sector.

The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, based in Amersham, the trade body for companies engaged in this sector, is making great progress towards meeting its Plug-In-Pledge for its members to make 300,000 plug-in vehicle registrations per year by 2025.

It is vital that we should have a robust and expanding system of charging points and we must ensure that all areas are served equally well. With 125 rapid-charge points per 100km, the UK compares well with the European average of 25, but we need to keep up – and speed up the expansion.

Our town and cityscapes will require more on-street charging points. The introduction of electric cargo bikes will increase the need for accessibility and flexibility of provision. I welcome the moves to consult on the proposal that chargepoint infrastructure could be a future requirement for new homes constructed in England, but for me it is a no-brainer and should just go ahead.

Allied to this, we should look at the changes which electric vehicle use will have on electricity consumption and the demands on the grid.

Scientific research and development is one of this country’s major strengths; the work that is being done on electric vehicles demonstrates that. It was reported in January that the UK vehicle developer Arrival has won an order for 10,000 delivery vans from UPS to be deployed in Britain, Europe and North America between 2020 and 2024.

With one in five electric cars sold in Europe being built in the north-east of England, we are well-placed to expand our domestic development of new electric vehicle technology. In this I include the need to focus on environmentally sustainable practices, such as recovering materials like lithium and cobalt used in batteries when these are replaced or when the vehicle is scrapped.

Decarbonisation will benefit our environment, not simply in terms of reducing global CO2 and its impact on climate change. The air we breathe will be cleaner as nitrogen dioxide emissions from combustion are lowered. With the effect of air pollution being identified by Public Health England as a major threat to health, that would be another bonus.

Dame Cheryl Gillan is Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham

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