Councils could get tougher on EV cables over pavements

The latest news from the world of electric motoring

Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, the electric motoring newsletter. My name is Tom Riley and I’ll be your host.

In the round-up today, there’s a lot of local yokel news - some of which is quite amusing. And in my bigger read, I discuss putting charging cables over pavements and the long-term implications following inquires with West London councils.

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In the news…

WHO’S LEADING? In order to write this newsletter, I rely on numerous alerts pinging off about EV news. One that came through yesterday was titled “Oxford leading the way with electric car charging points.” The article reveals new figures showing that there are 62 charging points per 100,000 people in Oxford. That’s much higher than the average of 31. Oxford has therefore crowned itself as “leading the way on the national rollout”. However, later yesterday I got another alert: “Chichester leads way in electric vehicle charging rollout.” And then again I got identical alerts for Northumberland, The Cotswolds, Reading, Milton Keynes, Midlothian, Carlisle, Eden and Herefordshire. No, I’m Spartacus.

FREE PARKING: It’s not looking positive for EV drivers down in Kent. At a council meeting, this week attendees voted to offer free parking to EVs in their car parks and on-street parking bays. This was seemingly a good move and matches to what other councils, especially in London, are doing to encourage higher EV take-up. It’s also a policy that Norway adopted and helped propel them to EV success. But, this great news for the people of Kent has come under fire from many who suggest "We will effectively be paying people to park in Maidstone, by giving them free charging.” The council has now clarified that EV drivers can only get free parking while charging for the maximum time permitted in that car park, which for short stays is about 4 hours. They will also still need to register with Kent’s parking system, even if not paying. Talk about making it easy!

THUNDER GODS: The World Economic Forum has published a small factsheet on EV sales for different countries. It’s quite interesting. It shows that the nordic countries, such as Norway, Iceland and Sweeden, continued to sell the most electrics in 2020. Perhaps most striking is that China fell out of the top 10, with electric vehicles accounting for just 6.2% of sales in the country (obviously, because of their size this is still a huge amount). Likewise, despite all the electric bravado and Elon loving in the United States, they fell further behind with an EV sales share of just 2.3% in 2020. Read more.

SURGE PROTECTED: One of the claims regularly made about electric cars is that if we all got one the grid wouldn’t be able to service the demand. That’s now been debunked by the National Grid’s project director for transport decarbonisation, Graeme Cooper. He told an Autocar event that “By 2030, we will have 40Gw of offshore wind power in the UK, which is an additional 30Gw compared to today. We will need more smart consumption to support that, but the energy market will grow, because we’re electrifying more things, such as cars.” Later in his talk, Cooper also provided words of encouragement for potential EV drivers without driveways saying: “I would ask 'do they have a petrol pump on the street outside their house?'” He believes people “will see lots of opportunities coming out, such as lamp-post chargers.” Read more.

MINI MOTORS: According to a new report, the fastest-growing class of electric cars up to 2025 will be ‘light electric vehicles’. That’s compared to agricultural vehicles, buses, commercial vehicles and passenger cars. For people in the West, this might seem bizarre - a light electric vehicle is like a golf buggy. But look to China and their most popular car is the Wuling HongGuang Mini EV (mentioned in a previous Fast Charge). It’s classed as a mini motor. I do wonder if we’ll see a similar car enter the western market. Perhaps a resurgence of the G-Wiz!

LOSING PACE: Plans to install 110 new charging points across South Lanarkshire (near Glasgow) have been scaled back. Now they are building just 64. This decrease is because of delays and other limitations. Ironically, the organisation in charge is called ‘Project PACE’.

Charging over a pavement? Councils could soon get tougher

Two-thirds of people living in London don’t have off-street parking. If you looked at the UK as a whole that drops to a third. This represents millions of people.

While the rollout of charging points in lamp-posts is rising fast, it is now widely accepted that public charging is more expensive than home charging. And therefore a gulf could grow between those with off-street capacity and those without.

However, rather than being stuck paying a premium, a lot of homeowners without driveways are still trying to get in on the cheaper deals. 

How

Well, they install home charging points either at the front of their property or at the back and dangle the cable over to where their car is parked on the street. This means cables often run over pavements (example below).

You only have to go down a residential road in London and you’ll constantly be stepping over cables going from terraced housing to an EV, especially at night.

Is this allowed?

In short, nobody is 100%. Councils certainly advise strongly against it. It is their opinion that it not only presents a danger to pedestrians but it also disrupts the ‘landscape’. Aka, it’s a bit of an eyesore. 

And they are right on both. Cables anywhere look absolutely ugly, that’s why we hide them behind sofas and walls. Legally speaking, they say it is an offence under the Highways Act 1980 to place objects on the public highway that could present a hazard to other road users. 

But none of this is stopping a growing number of people do it. Because how else can you get access to cheaper and personal charging?

Can we solve this?

To date, councils haven’t really done much to prevent people from doing this. I’ve found posts on EV forums going back 5 years of motorists putting the cable over the pavement and yet the practice remains. Likewise, even near me, two of my neighbours have done this without being penalised. It’s probably why more people are adopting this practice - as they can see others doing so.

When the local authority in Oxford undertook a trailblazing EV trial (Go Ultra Low Oxford) with some residents, they encountered this problem. Their solution was to provide people, who lived next to a street but without a driveway, with a small cable channel that went through the path in front of their house (pictured below). 

According to one user, it was very useful though a bit fiddly. Oxford ultimately concluded by saying “privately funded home chargers and cable channels should be encouraged with clear guidance for installation.”

However, today’s councils are not convinced. Hammersmith & Fulham Council told me “the practicalities of maintenance and liability would render adoption of such a solution unmanageable.” This was repeated by planners at Wandsworth, Richmond plus Kensington & Chelsea.

The latter also advised that in the Oxford trial they used asphalt, whereas in central London footpaths are “paved in attractive, high-quality York Stone.” And you can’t mess that up.

So it seems councils don’t like people’s current solution but don’t want to provide an alternative. I suppose their ambition is that everyone will use public charging points they are providing - and spending millions on - rather than people using their own supply.

“Residents have no right or indeed expectation of being able to park in front of their homes,” Kensington & Chelsea Council told me.

What happens next?

For now, people will continue to buy EVs and will charge up at home by placing cables over pavements. There are numerous products you can buy freely to make this easier, such as rubber cable covers, often used on construction sites.

Councils seem to dislike this but are stuck on what else to advise.

“If you choose to trail a cable over the pavement, you must make every effort to reduce the trip hazard by covering the cable and making passers-by aware,” says Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

However, though this is the approach right now, long-term the prospect does not look great for these motorists. As a planner for Richmond and Wandsworth Councils told me, “until public charging is more widespread the two councils will not normally take enforcement action as long as adequate care has been taken.”

This all feels like one day in the near future councils will get tougher on people charging at home without off-street parking. And I think if that does happen, people without the luxury of a drive will rightly feel very, very bitter. Especially if public charging is pricey and inconvenient. Beware!

By Tom Riley