Driving change: Scottish lessons for Wales’ electric vehicle future

Image by STIV abc from Pixabay

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Ynys Môn Assembly Member

I take both a personal and political interest in promoting a shift from petrol and diesel to new, greener, propulsion technology.

I have had a lifelong interest in the motor vehicle, from transport, engineering and aesthetic perspectives, but I’m acutely aware of the harm caused to our environment by petrol and diesel, both in terms of greenhouse gas and particle emissions.

I recently visited Scotland to learn about the work done there by Scottish Government and in particular by Dundee City Council – a centre of excellence in the EV (Electric Vehicle) world – and I found the visit to be inspiring.

Learning from the Scottish experience could prove valuable to us, and following a fact-finding visit to Scotland I’m pleased to be able to present a brief report to the National Assembly for Wales’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee as part of its inquiry into Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure.


My intention with this report is to help inform the debate in Wales on EV adoption. In Scotland, the debate is much more mature, and that is reflected in the significantly better-developed infrastructure.

I will be holding an event to launch the report outside the Assembly at midday on Wednesday, May 15th. A fleet of EVs will be on display, from manufacturers Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Renault and Volkswagen.

Assembly Members, support staff and members of the general public will be able to see EVs up close and learn more the latest developments in technology.

Scotland’s need for change was driven by the same factors as ours – climate change and the need for a cleaner, greener future. So six years ago Scotland set out its roadmap and off it went to the point where it now has one of the most comprehensive EV networks in Europe and is on course to reach its emissions targets by 2020.

Proposals have been put forward to phase out new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2040. Others, including my party, Plaid Cymru, are encouraging even more ambitious targets. But whatever the precise timetable, we are heading towards radical change, and we in Wales face a choice:

Either we let change happen to us and try to ‘cope’ with that change as best we can, or we embrace that change, and try to stay ahead of the curve. I believe we should opt for the latter.

A study published by HSBC in 2018 highlighted the scale of the challenge. It showed that Wales has by far the poorest infrastructure for charging electric vehicles in the UK, with only 31 publicly-funded charging points, compared with 743 in Scotland, 185 in Northern Ireland and 2,862 in England.

Per capita figures provided a starker picture. Scotland had one charge point for every 7,127 people, whilst Wales’ proportion stood at a truly staggering one charge point for every 98,806 people.

Strategy

So what next for Wales?

I welcome the Assembly Committee’s inquiry as a sign that Wales is now genuinely starting to engage with the EV/ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) agenda.

Witness also the budget deal between Plaid Cymru and Welsh Government providing £2m towards developing a national rapid charging network, along with statements from a number of Local Authorities on EV initiatives.

The Assembly discussed my proposal for an electric vehicle charging planning Bill on May 16, 2018, and I will be making another Legislative proposal immediately after launching my report on May 15th, calling for a non-carbon-emission public vehicles Bill, to promote the use of electric vehicles or non-emission vehicles in Wales in order to help reduce carbon emissions.

But we need a wide-ranging and bespoke ULEV strategy, not merely included as part of a wider strategy on carbon reduction, as we saw with the Low Carbon Plan recently published by Welsh Government. As well as strengthening power networks, charging infrastructure has to be planned carefully. The Low Carbon Plan notes that ‘lack of charging infrastructure should not be a barrier to EV uptake in Wales.’ I disagree. Although most charging is likely to take place at or near home or place of work, there has to be a visible, accessible and reliable charging network in order to give people the confidence to go electric.

My experience of driving an electric vehicle from my Ynys Môn constituency to Cardiff Bay in the summer of 2018 was evidence of the effect of a lack of infrastructure. Yes, I made it – but only by driving via England!

It also notes that Welsh Government expects business and industry will drive much of the roll-out of charging infrastructure. However Welsh Government must also recognise its own role and responsibility.

I would emphasise here that we need to revolutionise transport as a whole. We need to get more people out of cars and investing in public transport has to be a national priority. But cars will remain a crucial part of the transport landscape in Wales, so we’ve got to make them kinder to the environment.

Welsh Government could either wait for enough people to buy ULEVs before driving its own investment in infrastructure, which makes little sense to me, or it could do as Scotland has done, and see the real value in investing money, time and effort now in encouraging behavioural change.

Let’s make statements as a nation that raise the profile of ULEVs, and normalise their use. Can we introduce our own electric highways, as Scotland has done with their Electric A9? Can we rapidly incentivise the public and private sectors to go electric?

Let’s show that Wales is eager to embrace the future.


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