23 May 2022
How is Action 20 tackling the climate crisis?
Widespread on-street charging is essential to give households without driveways or garages the chance to switch to electric vehicles.
In County Durham, 43% of residents live in rural areas and 40% of housing is terraced with no off-street parking. That’s why the County Council has placed accessible public electric charging points at the centre of its plans to promote electric vehicles. The council’s Chargepoint Delivery Plan 2021 has five key actions:
- Lead by example by providing charging points on council sites and transferring the council’s vehicle fleet to electric
- Develop a network of public charging points
- Provide charging infrastructure for the council’s fleet
- Support appropriate private sector proposals for charging infrastructure
- Pursue partnerships, funding and education for other electric vehicle opportunities
The authority’s long-term goal is for every Durham resident to live within a five-minute walk of an EV charging point. Its short-term goal is to have at least one in each of the county’s 77 wards. To do this, the council is taking part in three schemes.
- The Durham Other Chargepoints project is backed by the UK Government’s On-Street Residential Charge Point Scheme
- The Weardale Electric Vehicle Accelerator project, is also backed by the On-Street Residential Charge Point Scheme
- The Scaling On Street Charging Infrastructure (SOSCI) project, sponsored by Innovate UK
All of these schemes aim to increase on-street charging provision, especially in places overlooked by the private sector. Companies tend to focus on installing chargers in dense urban areas that already have higher electric vehicle usage, rather than to encourage uptake in rural areas or villages and small towns.
Currently, Durham’s charging points are 22kW and cost 30p per kWh to use. The average charge amount on Durham’s network is 15kWh, costing about £4.50 for an average charging time of 1.5 to 2 hours. The Zap Map tool catalogues public charging points across the UK, enabling comparison with Durham on cost, power and charge time. There are numerous options for public charging, each varying depending on provider, location and function (for instance, charging at a motorway service station).
What impact has the project had?
More charging points
By December 2021, about 100 new charging points have been installed. This will increase to between 160 and 170 charging points by early 2022.
- 100 via the Scaling On Street Charging Infrastructure project
- 50 through the Durham Other Chargepoints project
- 10 through the Weardale Electric Vehicle Accelerator project
County Durham is part of the wider SOSCI (Scaling On-Street Charging Infrastructure) project which will install 200 chargers over 18 months across Northern England, to bring numbers closer to those found in London and South East England.
Stanhope in Weardale was selected as the site for the Weardale Electric Vehicle Accelerator project, where a row of 10 charging points was installed in the village. The Stanhope charging bank helped support an already existing and highly popular car club. Residents pay £6 a month and can book an electric car for a few hours, giving them car access without the cost of maintenance or insurance.
Making charging points accessible
The council is also making sure local charging points are designed to be accessible to people with disabilities by hiring a consultant to oversee this work. This is particularly important as many disabled people are dependent on private vehicles as their main form of transport. In October 2021 the council invited residents to an open event on the issue, where they could try using a charging point. Their feedback will be used to inform future charging point design.
What made this work?
Broad external partnerships
Durham County Council has engaged a wide range of partners to make its charging point rollout as successful as possible and is one of 13 partners on the SOSCI project, for example. Beyond the organisers of the three schemes mentioned above, collaborators have included parish and town councils, the North East Combined Authority, the LA7 group of local authorities in North East England, Durham University, Northern Powergrid and Charge My Street (a community benefit society that installs charging points).
To find the best sites for new charging points, the council is working with parish councils to identify potential locations at village halls, scout huts, community buildings and elsewhere.
When the first Covid-19 lockdown occurred in March 2020, council officers used the time to plan and plot 246 prospective sites for charging points. In doing this they used Northern Powergrid’s auto design tool, which estimated the installation cost of each specific charging point depending on grid connectivity. The cost of installation on some sites can be unjustifiably high, but by ensuring that extra potential sites are mapped in advance, another is waiting in reserve when one is ruled out.
Partnership within the council
Installing charging points needs cooperation across council teams: legal, procurement, planning, assets, highways, health and safety. To facilitate this, Durham set up an internal electric vehicle working group on the council which meets every two to three weeks. Durham has benefitted from senior officer support, notably from the Head of Environment and Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change. These secured the internal funding needed to cover the inevitable overflow costs that come with any infrastructure project.
Key action five in Durham’s Chargepoint Delivery Plan has a particular focus on education, as the council strongly believes that greater knowledge amongst residents about the benefits of electric vehicles will help increase uptake. The council is committed to sharing the latest information and has done so via extensive outreach, spreading the word at open events hosted in communities themselves.
The council also has an electric vehicle community working group, which meets every four to six weeks and includes council members, members of the Scaling On Street Charging Infrastructure initiative, and residents. The ability and willingness of residents to report concerns and offer their own suggestions have made the rollout more effective. For example, one resident asked for a charging point at the Tanfield Business Centre, where they spend most of their day. The council installed one. After making a request, Newton Aycliffe also had a charging point installed in the town’s youth and community centre.
Keeping up to date
Key action five also outlines the council’s commitment to itself remain fully informed. As the market for electric vehicles grows and evolves, the council intends to closely monitor changes. In 2018/19 the council worked with Durham University to survey electric vehicle drivers to better understand driver behaviour. In August 2021 the council signed on to the Rev-Up research project, funded by Innovate UK, which will explore alternative models of fitting charging points. Durham wants to share its learning and is drawing up a briefing pack of lessons learned to distribute to other local authorities across North East England in particular. Durham’s informed and proactive attitude will establish its reputation as a leader in electric vehicles.
What resources were needed?
The council won funding for charging points from multiple sources:
- Scaling On Street Charging Infrastructure is funded by Innovate UK and has a total budget of approximately £4.13m, of which Durham’s share is £263,638
- £375k from the UK Government’s On-Street Residential Charge Point Scheme for the Durham Other Chargepoints project
- £75k for the Weardale Electric Vehicle Accelerator project
- £100k of top-up funding from the council’s general budget
- £20k of top-up council funding channelled through the county’s fourteen unique Area Action Partnerships (forums bringing together county, town and parish councillors, public sector employees and community members)
In 2019, Durham County Council created the role of Electric Vehicle Project Officer to oversee the implementation of the Chargepoint Delivery Plan. This role sits within the council’s Low Carbon Team.
Lessons from Durham
Inequality in electric vehicle uptake and charging
Increasing accessible charging infrastructure will make the switch to electric vehicles more viable but will not lead to their widespread adoption on its own. Currently, most electric vehicle owners are relatively wealthy. Charging will not benefit individuals who cannot afford an electric vehicle in the first place.
Even once lower-income households begin to take up electric vehicles, they could face charging inequalities. Using on-street public charging points is currently more expensive than private home charging (which comes through homeowners’ domestic tariff) but is the only option for some residents. As electric vehicles become more widespread the UK government should work with local authorities to lower on-street charging costs.
As many low-income households don’t own cars, improvements to public transport will remain a key solution to help address transport inequalities, as well as cut emissions.
From 2030, sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK. To be prepared, local authorities need to begin planning for the wider provision of electric vehicle infrastructure.
Councils must choose between rapid chargers, which take 30-45 minutes per charge, or fast chargers, which take three or four hours. There is a significant cost differential; three fast chargers can be installed for the price of one rapid charger. However, residents may prefer the convenience of a rapid charger over the greater availability of fast chargers. The most suitable type of charger will vary from site to site.
Choosing the right sites can be tricky when weighing cost considerations against prime accessible locations. Site ownership can also prove problematic so ideally charging points should be installed on local authority land to minimise barriers, wherever possible.
For further information, contact Tracy Millmore.
Friends of the Earth view
Durham council is taking important steps towards facilitating the switch to electric vehicles by installing charging points, especially in rural areas which are often lacking in charging infrastructure.
Councils should also be rapidly switching their own fleets to electric (Action 25 of the Climate Action Plan). But helping to facilitate the switch to electric vehicles is just one aspect of cutting emissions from transport and councils should also be prioritising investment in cycling, walking and public transport (Action 21).
Friends of the Earth is showcasing specific examples of good practice in tackling climate change, but that doesn’t mean we endorse everything that a council is doing.
This case study was produced by Ashden and Friends of the Earth.