Independent, Expert EV Reviews & Advice Since 2006
Local Authority EV Toolkit

National Context and the Importance of EVs

The electric vehicle industry is full of acronyms, policies, documents, strategies, announcements and resources, and often it’s hard to know where to begin. We’ve pulled together some of the most important policy-related information that should be considered when developing an ultra-low emission vehicle strategy.

Diesel exhaust

What are the Drivers of Electric Vehicle Policy?

We can broadly categorise the key drivers of electric vehicle policy into four key factors:

Inward Investment

Demand for ultra-low emission vehicles increased 40% during 2022 amounting to over 16% of all new car sales that year. There are now over 1 million vehicles with a plug on the road in the UK with demand for electric cars second only to petrol cars. The UK Government is committed to the clean air agenda, and placing the UK as the world leader in the design and manufacture of low emission vehicles.

Construction is already underway on the AESC Envision EV battery gigafactory in Sunderland; one of the first of what the Government hopes will be many across the UK. It is a multi-billion pound investment that will bring 1000’s of additional jobs to support the car manufacturing activities already taking place in the region.

Carbon Reduction

Transport represents around 26% of all carbon emissions and is one of the only sectors to be growing in output; to offer some perspective, transport emissions increased approximately 1.7% per annum between 1990 and 2021 – significantly faster than any other emitting sector. Despite a significant drop-off in emissions as a result the COVID pandemic, as the world emerged from COVID-19 restrictions we saw an 8% increase in CO2 emissions in 2021 compared to the previous year.

To achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050, CO2 emissions from transport will need to reduce by around 3% per year between now and 2030. Increasing uptake of battery electric vehicles and providing the infrastructure to enable drivers to charge conveniently will be vital to help achieve this.

Air Quality

With reports from the Royal College of Physicians claiming that poor air quality contributes to 40,000 preventable deaths a year, and an increased public awareness of the effects of poor air quality, steps need to be taken to bring the UK into the legal nitrogen dioxide limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3). The increased push for diesel vehicles helped to reduce CO2 levels in towns and cities, but increased NO2 and Particulate Matter (PM) levels, which are linked to respiratory problems.

Energy Security

With fluctuating oil prices, and increased demand for the Earth’s precious resources, sources of renewable and sustainable power are at the forefront of the energy sector. We cannot ignore the fact that we are also in the midst of a cost of living crisis and that energy prices have increased significantly in the past 18 months or so. However, there are still significant savings to be made from running an electric vehicle, particularly for owners that can charge at home.

Electric vehicles will likely also play an important role in balancing power demand on the grid in the future, offering opportunities for energy storage.

What are the key policies and strategies to refer to?

In July 2018 the Road to Zero strategy was published. This strategy, which is technology neutral, sets out the UK’s ambition and a roadmap/policy for transport to decarbonise. The main aim is to put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacture of zero emission vehicles and for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040. The 2040 target can actually trace routes back to announcements as early as 2011.

Finally, in January 2019, the Clean Air Strategy was launched, a cross-industry strategy that sets out our plans for dealing with all sources of air pollution, making our air healthier to breathe, protecting nature and boosting the economy.

The Climate Change Act

The UK’s Climate Change Act requires us to reduce emissions by at least 80% against 1990 levels by 2050, although in June 2019 the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced that greenhouse gas emissions in the UK will be cut to almost zero by 2050, under the terms of a new government plan to tackle climate change.

The actual terminology used by the government is ‘net zero’ greenhouse gases by 2050.

That means emissions from homes, transport, farming and industry will have to be avoided completely or – in the most difficult examples – offset by planting trees or sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Scotland has already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045, five years ahead of the UK government’s target.

Climate Emergencies: ‘Net Zero’ and ‘Carbon Neutral’ verses ‘Zero Carbon’

Following on from the IPCC report, over 220 local authorities have declared a climate emergency. Local authorities have either set carbon neutral or net zero targets, which involve balancing the amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference.

A few local authorities have gone a step further and set zero carbon targets, which means they will make all their operations carbon emission free or have set a target wider than their individual authority and aim to make their city or region carbon neutral.

The timescales for these targets range from 2020 to 2050. Some examples include:

  • Nottingham City Council has declared it will be carbon neutral by 2028.
  • Greater Manchester Combined Authority has declared that the whole city region will be carbon neutral by 2038.
  • Winchester City Council has set a target that aims for council operations to be carbon neutral by 2024 and for the wider district to be carbon neutral by 2030.
  • Durham County Council has declared it will be zero carbon by 2050.

Taking Charge: the electric vehicle infrastructure strategy

Launched in spring 2022, the UK Government’s EV strategy sets out the vision for 2030 to remove EV charging infrastructure as a barrier (both perceived and real) to the widespread adoption of EVs as part of wider plans to meet net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner. The headline figure from this document is that it forecasts a requirement for at least 300,000 public chargepoints in the UK by 2030 with a potential for more than double that amount required.

The strategy aims to ensure that everyone can find and access reliable chargepoints wherever they live, from city centres to rural locations and everywhere in between. It also ensures public charging is effortless and that simple and straightforward low cost overnight charging becomes the go-to solution for EV drivers without access to a driveway. The document also underlines a requirement for there to be a fairly priced and inclusively designed network of chargepoints that is open to all. To deliver this, the private sector is expected to lead and develop new technologies and products to ensure barriers to EV charging are removed; the sector is also expected to ensure EV charging networks are seamlessly integrated into a smart energy system.

Clean Air Zones: In a nutshell…

A Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality, in particular by discouraging the most polluting vehicles from entering the zone. They are a temporary measure to bring an authority into the legal limit for NO2.

No vehicle is banned in the zone, but those which don’t meet the emissions limits will have to pay a daily charge if they travel within the area. Costs vary, from anywhere between £8 to £100 per day depending on vehicle make, age and model.

Changes to Driving Licences

Battery electric vans are much heavier than their petrol or diesel equivalents, meaning previously it put electric vans over the weight limit for a normal driver. However, Category B driving licence holders can now drive alternatively-fuelled vans that weigh up to 4.25 tonnes (an increase from 3.5 tonnes) after a five-hour training course.

Electric vehicle charging infrastructure: help for local authorities

The Transport Decarbonisation: Local Authority toolkit has been developed by Energy Saving Trust in partnership with the Department for Transport. It is a collection of best practice case studies, resources and information on a growing range of transport decarbonisation interventions.

The toolkit aims to help a time-pressured local authority responsible for delivering climate change or net zero action plans to quickly understand how to develop a range of possible transport projects. It is designed to help develop business cases and allow officers to identify and engage with other relevant teams across their local authority and partners to deliver projects.

Central to many of the actions in the transport decarbonisation toolkit is working in partnership communities, residents and third sector groups, as well as officers from across the council to ensure that the solutions are fit for purpose and address a local need.

More in the toolkit…