At least a quarter of local authorities in England and Wales have put a brake on the expansion of charging networks for electric vehicles.
More than 100 local councils say they have no plans to increase the number of charging points they offer. Campaigners and politicians fear this could hinder the expansion of the UK’s electric fleet.
Electric vehicles are seen as key to government plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also have a role in cutting air pollution. This week Public Health England called for vastly more electric vehicles to replace petrol and diesel types, to tackle the problem of toxic air in cities.
The findings come from freedom of information requests submitted by the Liberal Democrats, and were shared with the Guardian. They follow more than a decade of efforts to upgrade the UK’s infrastructure to encourage drivers to switch to electric.
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat former energy and climate change secretary, blamed cuts to council budgets for the lack of investment in charging points.
“Unless there is urgent action to tackle our out-of-control transport emissions, our environment and the health of future generations will suffer,” he said. “People deserve better. There is no doubt these councils are being hamstrung by Conservative government cuts, crippling their ability to tackle climate change. These cuts must be reversed.”
Davey has written to the business secretary, Greg Clark, demanding a summit that would also involve local authorities and the Department for Transport, to establish a “collective approach” to providing an expanded network of charging points.
Of the 301 councils that responded to the FoI requests, 107 said they had no plan to increase the number of charging points, 122 had a plan in place to increase the number, and 62 said they were taking steps to increase the number without having a formal plan to do so. Eight said they had no appropriate locations for installing new charging points. About 60 councils failed to respond.
Wolverhampton, Bolton and Swansea were among the cities to report they have no plans to expand their charging networks. None of the three responded to Guardian requests for comment.
Councils play a key role in providing the charging infrastructure needed to encourage drivers to take up electric vehicles. Other charging points are provided by private sector organisations such as supermarkets or shopping centres.
“In some areas electric vehicle charging expansion will be driven by the market, and some areas will have different needs for charging infrastructure,” said Judith Blake, the transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association. “Councils will play an important role but all areas will respond in a way that suits local circumstances.”
She said councils were taking other steps to tackle air pollution, such as promoting cycling and putting in place low-emission zones, as well as improving air quality monitoring. But she said a lack of long-term funding was “a clear barrier to such investment” and called on the central government to address the problem.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “Our vision is to have one of the best infrastructure networks in the world for electric vehicles, and we want charging points to be accessible, affordable and secure. Our Road to Zero strategy sets out our commitment to massively expand electric vehicle infrastructure, while the £400m public-private charging infrastructure investment fund will see thousands more charging points installed across the UK.”
Rebecca Newsom, the head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “The government has been far too content with cruising in the slow lane when it comes to tackling transport emissions. The car industry is restructuring around electric vehicles, and this is an opportunity for the UK to be a leader in EVs and bring in the good jobs that come with it. But the UK needs to be a much better place to make electric cars. There is need for a new initiative to get momentum.”