Gillingham and Shaftesbury appear in danger of being left behind in the impending electric vehicle revolution, report Michael Streeter and Richard Thomas. Each town currently only has one, relativity slow-charging electric vehicle charge point or EVCP, and few immediate plans for more, even though central government aims to phase out new diesel and petrol cars entirely by 2040.
A symbol of the problem is the fact that Dorset Council’s own small fleet of electric vehicles is barely able to get to Gillingham or Shaftesbury and back to Dorchester because of a lack of battery capacity and charging points.
Gillingham’s mayor Barry Von Clemens recently told fellow councillors: ‘Dorset council’s fleet of electric cars only just have enough power to come to Gillingham and get back to Dorchester if they don’t turn the radio on or use the electric windows.’
Meanwhile, there are no plans to install charge points in new housing estates in the towns because developers say there are no planning rules that require this.
‘We need to be actively encouraging the switch to electric but this will only happen if people know they have recharging points at regular intervals and easy to access points,’ Councillor Von Clemens told this newspaper. ‘At present, just one charger is woefully inadequate and we need to ensure more are forthcoming.’
In Gillingham, where the only charging point is at ASDA, there are now attempts to rectify the problem. Councillor Fiona Cullen is heading a climate audit group for the town council and the provision of EVCPs is set to be one of its ‘key actions’ when it reports back to the council later this month. The town council has also enthusiastically backed future plans by Dorset Council to put charging points in the town’s council-owned car parks.
The move was welcomed by Councillor Von Clemens. ‘After declaring a climate emergency the unitary council needs to put its money where its mouth is and start rolling out some sort of scheme in the rural areas – such as Gillingham – in their car parks. As a town council, we are eager to develop renewable energy options and to work to a reduction in carbon emissions wherever we can.’ The town council is also to explore the most effective ways of installing charging points on its own land in Gillingham by signing up to a new supplier framework drawn up by Hampshire County Council.
In Shaftesbury, where the only EVCP is at the Royal Chase hotel, town clerk Claire Commons said they were not aware of the Dorset Council initiative and would follow it up. She said provision of EVCPs in Shaftesbury is included in the town council’s draft neighbourhood plan due to be published on 1 August. But the council wants to see ‘demonstrable demand’ for EVCPs before the council will support their installation. ‘At this stage we do not have quantifiable evidence of demand and our understanding is that we cannot insist as this would be outside the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as it currently stands,’ Mrs Commons said.
The absence of planning requirements to install charging points has frustrated many in Shaftesbury, where residents have asked for them in the Persimmon, Redrow and Lidl developments.
But new councillors are now leading the charge for more urgent action. Councillor Julian Prichard, who chairs the League of Friends of Westminster Memorial Hospital in Shaftesbury, is fundraising for a new electric transport vehicle to ferry patients and is looking to install an EVCP at the hospital. He said that as far as Shaftesbury is concerned ‘it’s not enough just to wait for someone else to tell us to do it or give us permission to do it. We have to take the initiative ourselves and get on with it.’
Councillor Peter Yeo said he had already suggested that the town council put an EVCP at Barton Hill car park and other public places. ‘No one will make the leap to electric cars if councils do not take the initiative by providing them first. Visitors need to know they can charge their cars here to get home again,’ he said.
Dorset Council responded to the claims that parts of the county are being left behind in the electric car revolution, saying it plans to update its EV fleet and put in more charging points.
A spokesperson said it currently has three Nissan Leaf electric staff vehicles in Dorchester. ‘These vehicles are now some years old and so are restricted in range to a point where some parts of the county are not accessible, at least not without a detour to find a charging station,’ the spokesperson admitted.
‘Securing newer vehicles than those currently operated as pool cars will increase the range of the vehicles to a point where any location in the county will be easily accessible. The current work to improve the charging infrastructure across the county will also make it easier to use these vehicles in Dorset,’ said the spokesperson.
On planning, the council says while it does not have a formal policy for EV charging points in new developments, it is working on the ‘appropriate wording’ for putting in the new Dorset Local Plan and Dorset Local Transport Plan. In the meantime the council says it is using existing rules to work with developers to provide the ‘appropriate level of EV charging points wherever possible’.