Britain has thousands fewer electric car charging points than it should have because councils are frustrating their rollout, according to one of the country’s biggest energy companies.
Big six energy firm SSE said that when it started work three years ago, it had hoped to install 6,000 charging points in London by now, but had fitted just 762 because of delays at local authorities.
The company is the contractor putting in the chargers for the Source London network, run by French firm Bolloré.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has backed electric vehicle infrastructure to help clean up the capital’s dirty air, but his rhetoric has reportedly not filtered down to the local level.
Slow decision-making and bureaucracy in councils, coupled with different approaches to charge points across the city’s boroughs, are understood to have hamstrung the rollout.
Kevin Welstead, sector director for electric vehicles at SSE Enterprise, said: “Progress has not been rapid. The issue is that we have to effectively negotiate with each of the 33 individual London boroughs so we can install charge points alongside their parking bays, and some are more progressive on the electric vehicle agenda than others.”
The Guardian understands that 130 charging points are in limbo in Southwark, a borough which is otherwise seen as good on electric cars.
While the points were given planning approval in 2016, permission has not been given by highways management, meaning they cannot be installed. Planning permission expires next year.
Welstead said ministers and Khan had rightly supported electric vehicles, but added: “Our experience as an infrastructure provider on the ground is that this message has not seeped all the way through.”
One possible reason for holdups could be the financial problems that austerity has imposed. Cuts to central government grants have led local authorities to shed staff, including those on transport teams, and remaining staff are understood to be stretched to capacity.
Another explanation could be that some boroughs are not seeing much demand from constituents, so are not prioritising approvals. There has also reportedly been a growth in very localised opposition, including in conservation areas.
However, there are hotspots of demand for charging points, including Camden, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Southwark.
The mayor of London launched an electric vehicle infrastructure taskforce in May, focused on so-called “rapid chargers”, not the slower chargers that comprise most of the Source London network. There are nearly 4,000 charging points in London, according to Zap Map.
London Councils, which represents the city’s 33 boroughs, denied holding back the switch to electric cars.
Councillor Julian Bell, chair of the group’s transport and environment committee, said: “London boroughs are committed to supporting environmentally friendly transport and are leading the way in delivering an effective network of electric vehicle charging points across the capital.”
He added that boroughs also had “a duty to consider the needs of pedestrians and other road users and to make sure these services are delivered to high standards”.