December’s Electric Car Count found electric vehicles (EVs) are the only segment of the UK’s new car market that grew last year. And with new petrol and diesel vehicles to be banned from 2030, current demands on local infrastructure are just a taste of the major transition to come.

As we work extensively with councils on publicly accessible charge points, this blog is the first in a series interviewing those taking on the EV infrastructure challenge in their area.

Here’s what Andy Smith, Senior Transport and Infrastructure Projects Officer, Watford Borough Council (one of ten district councils within Hertfordshire County Council) had to say.

How did your EV journey start?

In 2010, Hertfordshire won national funding from the Transport Innovation Fund, and asked if we could use some of the pot to put in our first EV chargers. We installed nine units in local car parks, as back then, it wasn’t common to have on-street charge points.

Soon after we launched the UK’s first entirely electric pay-per-use car club. Unfortunately, COVID-19 brought new projects to a standstill, but we’ve now picked things up and recently installed another 23 charge points through our latest round of On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS) funding.

What’s been your experience of securing and implementing ORCS so far? 

ORCS has been a welcome opportunity to scale our EV infrastructure, and my personal experience has been very good. Our contact at the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) worked with us every step of the way to ensure we completed the project within our deadline of 20th December last year.

One thing I’ve learned is that while the ORCS form says you need photos of all locations, they will accept Google Earth pictures – which can be very handy if there are obstructions at the time you need images.

As a district council, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced regarding EV roll-out?

There’s a level of autonomy that district councils simply don’t have compared to unitary local authorities. We have to work within the parameters of the County’s wider EV strategy –  which often means answering to the stringent rules & regulations of the highway authority.

For example, we agreed to use 15 of Hertfordshire’s lamp columns to install 7 k/w charge points in our last ORCS bid. After buying the required charge points we were told that the county’s EV strategy had since changed. We were now no longer permitted to use any lamp columns.

This left us with 15 assets on our hands that we could no longer use. This was one of the many times I’ve been thankful we’ve struck up relationships with other councils with the same mission. By a stroke of luck, Brighton & Hove City Council was able to take them off our hands to use at their own locations.

How did you overcome this setback?

We turned to freestanding units, which come with their own challenges. As well as being far more expensive to install, they must be placed 2.5 meters from any other electrical apparatus, which could be, say, a person’s property.

This is an example of how tricky it can be when regulations that apply to all ten districts do not necessarily take local context into account. Watford is densely populated, with narrow pavements and what you might call Coronation Street style Victorian terraced housing. Finding locations for freestanding units that met the new set of requirements was a real logistical challenge. Ultimately it takes a lot of coordination to meet everybody’s demands!

What advice would you give to a local authority set on improving their public EV charging provision?

  • Prepare to come up against some resistance from the non-believers in your constituency. We now do a soft launch for each location. Send out leaflets to notify residents if chargers are coming to their area, detailing how it will affect them. And while we mark bays for EV use, we do not enforce TROs straight off the bat. We will only do so if an EV user reaches out to complain that the space is being used by a petrol driver.
  • Plan well in advance. We now engage with UK Power Networks (UKPN) ahead of time to find out where power cables are. This is particularly important for freestanding units – to avoid making promises you can’t keep to residents who want a charger in their street, if it turns out an installation is going to be unfeasibly expensive.
  • Create a central database containing all your current and planned locations, and any complaints or requests from residents. That way if someone wants a charger by their house, but you’ve already got one coming round the corner you can let them know immediately.
  • Reach out to other local authorities for support and advice, and keep channels of communication open. Insights from other councils have proven to be invaluable time savers.
  • Make sure your voice is heard if your county council’s strategy does not meet your needs or match your EV ambition. The local councils near me have come together to amplify the need for more on-street chargers, as opposed to focussing primarily on destination charging. We feel strongly that’s what is needed to future-proof our EV infrastructure.

To  learn more about the support available in ORCS applications and location consultancy drop us a line at info@ebcharging.co.uk.

Date: 25/02/2022