Climate change & transport in Scotland

As world leaders gather in Glasgow for COP26 to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, it is even more pertinent that we scrutinise transport and infrastructure in Scotland to support electric vehicles. The recent fuel crisis in the UK has also made the country rethink the necessity of electric cars. However, Scotland has a range of issues to tackle before it can support the transition to electric vehicles and consumers feel confident in the decision to choose electric over petrol and diesel.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has expressed concern over an unequal and inconsistent installation of charging infrastructure for electric cars. Pivotal recommendations have been outlined by the watchdog for the government ahead of the impeding ban of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and its target of making the UK net zero by 2050.

At present there are 25,000 electric charging points in the UK, with the CMA estimating that 250,000 will be required by 2030 to meet expected demand. Other issues presenting themselves are the distribution of the charging points with limited numbers being installed in rural areas and the slow roll-out of on-street charging points from local authorities. Lack of competition and choice for consumers is another pitfall emerging.

Planning permission for charging points is an issue that must be given careful consideration. Development rights for charging points in public and private car parks are authorised on a conditional basis, however, planning permission is mandatory elsewhere which may create obstacles. The National Planning Policy Framework encompasses conditions for new developments and changes of use to be constructed to facilitate charging of plug-in and ultra-low emission vehicle in safe, accessible and convenient locations. Building Regulations legislation is currently being revised which will mandate the installation of charging infrastructure in new buildings and buildings that are undergoing material change in use or major renovation. Additionally, legislation on smart charging is soon to be introduced by the government.

The significantly higher cost of electric vehicles in comparison to petrol and diesel is another reason these cars still represent a niche market and explain their low demand. Europe is the world’s second largest electric vehicle market after China, and electric cars are set to play a crucial role in plans to meet the new complex CO2 targets and goals of the Paris Agreement. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to comply with the new regulations without electric vehicles.

Car insurance premiums are also higher, insuring an electric car can potentially expose the insurance company to more expensive costs than insuring a gas car. As the demand for electric cars grow, repairs may become less expensive, helping drive down the cost of insurance. However, this extra outlay may be negated by the reduced costs in electric vehicles. The government have declared that all new cars sold after 2040 are required to be electrified, therefore, as electric cars dominate the market, they will soon become cheaper than their petrol and diesel counterparts.

In summary, scarcity of charging points proving challenging and frustrating for drivers, have discouraged consumers to opt for electric vehicles. Concerns have also been raised surrounding reliability and difficulties in comparing prices and paying for charging. To achieve government objectives the availability of charging infrastructure needs to be addressed with greater urgency as well as making electric cars consumer friendly in terms of vehicles costs and insurance premiums.

This article was co-written by Carla Mitchell, Trainee Solicitor. 

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