Transport produced 24% of the UK’s total emissions in 2020 and remains the largest emitting sector in the UK. 91% of UK transport emissions come from road transport (Department for Transport, 2022). Increasing the use of Electric Vehicles (EVs) is therefore of paramount importance if the UK is to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Recent trends show that the electric vehicle market is booming, with a record increase in the number of EVs sales in the UK over the past two years. However, this is happening at a pace far greater than the rollout of EV charging infrastructure, according to the UK’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy (2022). The rollout of EV charging infrastructure therefore constitutes a significant barrier to facilitating the uptake of EVs in the UK, thus hampering the country’s target to reach net zero by 2050.
The EV charging infrastructure market is rapidly gaining momentum. At the end of October 2023, there were 51,516 electric vehicle charging points across the UK, across 30,360 charging locations. This represents a 45% increase in the total number of charging devices since October 2022. Although the overall number of publicly available charging stations has been exponentially increasing throughout the UK, the number of Rapid (22kw+) and Ultra-Rapid (100kw+) charging stations make up a relatively small proportion of overall UK charging networks (10.5% and 8.1% respectively). Rapid and Ultra Rapid charging allow users to charge their vehicle much faster (as quick as 30 minutes for a full charge). This is key to increasing the usage of EVs, making longer trips far more convenient and ensuring high rates of turnover and efficiency at EV charging sites.
Given that Rapid and Ultra Rapid charging stations require suitable and secure grid connections, it is critical that the site selection process is “grid led”. Therefore, once a grid connection is secured and a suitable site is identified, it is important that local authorities are flexible and proactive in determining the planning application so that the project can be delivered. From our experience, with various local planning authorities throughout the UK, this has often been an important factor- especially given that increasing EV charging provision and climate change mitigation continues to be afforded substantial weight in decision making for planning applications.
Permitted development rights can also be extremely useful in streamlining the rollout of EV charging infrastructure. Depending on the details of the project, Permitted Development (PD) can allow for EV charging stations to be developed without the need to apply for planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. However, current PD rights in England are restrictive and do not provide enough flexibility to allow the necessary equipment to be installed for Rapid and Ultra-Rapid charging technology. Recent amendments to permitted development rights in Scotland (Class 9F, Part 2D, Schedule 1 of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development and Use Classes) (Scotland) Miscellaneous Amendment Order 2023) have increased the flexibility for EV charging development – removing earlier restrictions that prevented these rights from being exercised in designated areas such as Conservation Areas, National Parks and National Scenic Areas. It also confers new rights to install associated equipment (such as DNO substations and ancillary equipment cabinets) for the recharging of electric vehicles, subject to restrictions. This amended legislation has been instrumental in increasing the rollout of much needed, Rapid and Ultra-Rapid EV charging infrastructure in Scotland over the past year, and shows the positive impact of using permitted development to roll out EV charging infrastructure.
However, it remains to be seen whether the UK government will amend the PD rights in England to enable a more flexible framework to enable the quicker delivery of EV charging infrastructure to address the climate change impacts of the transport sector and growing demand for EV charging infrastructure. Currently, Class E, Part 2 of Schedule 2 to the GPDO 2015 outlines the PD rights in England for the installation, alteration or replacement of an EV charging unit on an upstand (subject to conditions and restrictions), however these extant PD rights remain too restrictive for rapid and ultra-rapid EV charging development proposals.