On 15th July 2019, almost unnoticed amid the sound and fury of the Conservative leadership contest, the Department for Transport issued a public consultation on proposals to require, via an amendment to the building regulations, all new homes to be fitted with electric vehicle charging points. The proposal forms part of the government's Road to Zero strategy which aims to "clean up road transport" by moving to zero emission road vehicles. This is, of course, all in line with the Government's recent commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which was significantly bolstered by the passing by Parliament in June 2019 of a statutory instrument made under the Climate Change Act 2008 effectively enshrining that commitment in law.
What does the proposed amendment to the building regulations mean for developers?
The move will come as no surprise to developers. Increasingly local authorities have in recent years, been introducing requirements for electric vehicle charging points in new residential developments through the planning process. Looked at from a developer's point of view, this is just another development cost that needs to be taken into account in the development appraisal. The addition of the cost of charging points will have the effect of slightly reducing the monies left available to satisfy the local planning authority's "wish list" of things that might be secured under a s106 agreement. But, if carried through, there would be, for the first time, a requirement as a matter of law, as opposed to policy, to provide electrical charging points.
From an environmental perspective, the initiative is to be welcomed. But it is not without its problems. Firstly, it is not clear how the policy would apply to houses that do not have off-street parking spaces. (It would clearly be a major safety issue to have a cable across the pavement outside every house!) Nor is it clear how it could easily be applied to blocks of flats or to conversions of offices to flats under Schedule 2 Part 3 Class O of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (the 2015 Order), which are becoming more widespread. In neither case is a dedicated parking space per flat guaranteed. Indeed, especially in locations close to public transport links, the provision of parking spaces tends to be actively discouraged through restraint-based planning polices.
Secondly, such a policy in isolation would take a very long time to make a significant difference. The UK currently builds just over 200,000 new homes a year, with this figure representing an 11-year high. Even if the Government's target of 300,000 new homes a year were to be consistently achieved year on year, it's going to take a long time for electric vehicle charging points to become widespread, let alone ubiquitous. It will have no significant effect on the approximately 25 million existing homes in the UK, of which only about 10,000 a year are demolished and replaced. Clearly, there will also need to be policies encouraging existing homes to install charging points.
Permitted development rights and their restrictions
There are existing permitted development rights (in England in Schedule 2 Part 2 Class D of the 2015 Order) to install charging points without the need to apply to the local planning authority. But there are various restrictions. For example, the permitted development right does not apply where the charging point is within two metres of the highway (which will exclude any properties which front directly onto the pavement - not uncommon in older houses - or which only have small front gardens).
In addition, the permitted development right does not apply in the curtilage of a listed building and can be excluded in conservation areas by means of an Article 4 Direction. Between them these heritage designations probably represent some millions of homes in total which would need to apply for planning permission for a charging point. These heritage-related restrictions are, perhaps, understandable but, for there to be a widespread switch from petrol and diesel-powered cars to electric vehicles, charging points are going to need to become as commonplace and as unnoticed as, until recently, television aerials were - and in many places still are. Perhaps the charging point permitted development right needs revisiting as part of a comprehensive policy approach?
A further plank of a comprehensive approach should perhaps cover incentives for homeowners to install charging points. This could be in much the same way as owners are currently encouraged to improve energy efficiency by, for example, installing renewable energy technologies such as solar panels and heat pumps. This could be extended to offer grants and/or loans to those willing and able to install electric vehicle charging points. Incentives could be increased for those installing both renewable energy equipment and electric vehicle charging points, which would, after all, together make vehicles truly green.
The future of the charging point policy consultation
Of course, we need to remember that the charging point policy consultation was issued in the dying days of Theresa May's government. We now have a new Prime Minister in Boris Johnson who, in his Cabinet reshuffle, has appointed a new Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Schapps. It remains to be seen whether the new Government will follow through on the electric vehicle charging point policy, which is, of course, still only at consultation stage. But the signs may be good. In 2009, when he was Mayor of London, Boris Johnson announced a plan to put 100,000 electric cars on London's streets That initiative may not have been entirely successful but Johnson revealed his view of electric vehicles at the time, saying: "Electric cars are a way of reducing harmful emissions…without settling for hair-shirt abstinence". A positive assessment, indeed.
All in all, a promising start but more work needed.