Bury St Edmunds firm SaveMoneyCutCarbon back the county council's Plug In Suffolk
The year is 2015. Hand-held tablets are all the rage, 3D is transforming cinema and video conferencing is revolutionising boardroom meetings. Back to the Future Part II, released in 1989, made a lot of accurate predictions for how we now live our lives. But film-makers did also imagine humanity would have moved beyond the electric road car and we would now all be flying on our commutes to work. Surely by 2019 the petrol car would be history.
For many, the electric vehicle has been the future for too long, but data shows we could be on the edge of a breakthrough – and Bury St Edmunds is playing a part.
Last year an unprecedented 46,000 electric vehicles were registered across the UK. And the government is looking to help, as part of their ambition to lead the world in zero emission vehicle technology by offering subsides and relief from congestion charge and tax.
But drivers are still facing problems charging up – especially those without equipment at home. And there is a discrepancy between towns with the leading number of charging stations (Milton Keynes has 138) and six council districts that do not have even one.
Central government has left it to local authorities to investigate charging points and both tiers of government are getting involved.
West Suffolk Council is one of just 28 local authorities to take advantage of obtaining funding from the government’s £2.5million On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme, which aims to help drivers to charge their vehicle.
A spokesman from the council said: “The funding will be used for a trial scheme at locations across West Suffolk to make it easier for residents to re-charge electric vehicles outside of their own home.
“This is likely to be introduced in the summer and more details on how the pilot scheme will work, will be made public nearer the time.
“While there are no direct responsibilities from the government in order to for us to promote and enhance provision for electric and hybrid vehicles, both the government and West Suffolk Council recognise air pollution has an impact not only on public health but also the wider economy.”
BBC analysis of charging points shared on Open Charge Map revealed St Edmundsbury has 221 registered electric vehicles and 11 charging locations. This works out as 50 charging locations for every 1,000 vehicles listed – below the UK average of 71. The council has already helped to fund charging points at Parkway and Ram Meadow car parks in Bury St Edmunds, as well as in Newmarket and Haverhill.
Forest Heath, meanwhile, has 91 registered vehicles and 13 charging points – representing 143 locations for every 1,000 vehicles.
The spokesman added: “We are now looking to deliver further rapid charge points in West Suffolk and working with our planners to ensure wherever possible new developments are provided with charge points.”
County Hall has said it is committed to becoming the ‘greenest authority’ through schemes such as Plug in Suffolk, which launched in February. The county council said Plug in Suffolk aims to fit ‘almost every’ public car park in the county with a charging point that can be used by anyone with a credit card. The project is also looking to encourage businesses to install charging stations to be used by employees, residents and visitors.
Electric vehicles are a specialist subject for Simon Blaaser, who works for Bury St Edmunds renewable energy firm SaveMoneyCutCarbon.
He has called on councils to see the potential for all-round benefit in installing charging points.
He said: “I would ask councils to see an opportunity. Manchester (council) has launched its own charging system and are now seeing benefits beyond the cost of running it. It enables more people spending time in the town centre and can charge their car, boosting footfall, which is a win for everyone.
“For example, if electric car owners know they could charge up their car in Bury, they might be more likely to do their shopping here than look to other towns.”
According to Auto Trader, 71 per cent of consumers are considering buying an electric car as their next vehicle, while the battery powered Renault Zoe is the second fastest selling second hand car across the board. Volvo is looking to start a trend of manufacturers in putting only electric or hybrid cars on the market from 2021.
Mr Blaaser said the technology can also be cost effective for consumers with fuel costing £14.20 per 100 miles in a standard car – and £5 in an electric vehicle.
He continued: “There is also opportunity for businesses to install charging points in their own car parks and then rent spaces.
“In the past there has been some anxiety around running out of battery, but there are apps – often built into cars – that show maps of places where you can charge. You just have to be a bit more savvy.”