Arrival Of Electric Car Vehicles Lags In Hastings

In the third quarter of 2015 there were just over 50,000 vehicles registered in the UK with ‘ultra-low emissions’ (ULEVs), ranging from pure electric vehicles to plug-in hybrids. Three years on, that figure had jumped almost fourfold to over 185,000 and by 2019 a further 33% to 247,000. It’s the future, isn’t it? 

The proportionate rises of ULEV registrations in the county of East Sussex have been marginally greater: from 319 vehicles to 1,138 between 2015 and 2018, and nearly 50% more again in the past year.

And in the borough of Hastings? There were just 42 registrations in 2015, 103 in 2018 and 142 in 2019 – a steady rise, certainly, but significantly lower than in the surrounding hinterland.

There are probably two main reasons for this lower proportion. First, the higher purchase cost of electric vehicles makes them unaffordable to most drivers in a town of low earners. Secondly, the high percentage of such drivers who live in flats or terrace houses without driveways or other adjacent areas where private electric charge points can be easily installed.

Drivers no doubt prefer in principle the easy accessibility and assumed reliability of private charging points within their own control. But public charging provision could, you would think, offer equal accessibility and reliability – we all accept the need to fill up our petrol tanks regularly at a public garage. And in a tourist town hoping to attract the electric vehicle motorists of the present as well as future, the need to offer them the most reliable, accessible and efficient charging points, so that they don’t risk getting stranded, would seem paramount.   

Which is no doubt why, when Hastings Borough Council (HBC) passed its motion in February 2019 to set a target for the town to become carbon neutral in order to combat climate change, it resolved specifically to:
• encourage existing supermarkets to install EV charging points;
• lobby East Sussex County Council to take up existing government grants to install on-street EV charging points;
• press for a properly co-ordinated national EV charging network.
So how is it going? Slowly, it seems.

No supermarket provision

Four principal supermarkets in town – Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons – each sell petrol and also have substantial parking areas. EV customers could be charging up while they shop at the store. But not one of these currently offers any electrical charging points.

Cllr Maya Evans, HBC cabinet member for climate change, says that her department has written to all the major Hastings stores asking them to meet for this purpose. But she says that HBC has no leverage with them.
“Sadly, they are currently more incentivised by profits rather than the threat of climate change. We can obviously promote [EV charging points] via our communications etc, however that might not be an exciting enough prospect for them, and I suspect (as a skint council) dropping business rates isn’t an option”.

Morrisons, to be fair, claim to be installing the nation’s largest network of rapid electric charging points for electric vehicles, with 50 stores equipped by October 2019, and have told HIP that some time this year their Hastings store will join this initiative, allowing customers to charge the majority of cars from flat to full battery in under 45 minutes. The other supermarkets are less forthcoming. 

On-street

As to other on-street EV charging points, the current provision is feeble by any standards. The only central locations are in council-run car parks on the seafront at Pelham Place (opposite the council offices), at St Leonards Marina, and at the Esso garage next to Lidl on Bohemia Road. 

Of these the Pelham Place facility offers ‘trickle’ charging for a maximum stay of five hours and the privilege of paying standard parking charges (£6.60 for five hours) while you’re there. In any event it was out of action last weekend. The St Leonards Marina facility offers a fast charge (maximum stay 30 minutes) and no parking fee, but also seemed to be ‘disabled’ for most users. The Esso garage offers a Genie Point, but you have to be registered with the right supplier.

One of the bugbears for EV drivers is that the government department that licenses charging facilities has insisted on ‘competition’ between the providers. As with mobile networks, each has its own plugs and cables, each operates by way of its own internet apps and charge cards. This system may make for competitive private provision, but makes no sense in the public sphere – it’s as if separate companies with competing ticketing systems managed distinct railway carriages on the same train. 

The Hastings experience

One Hastings driver, Tessa Martina, who was an early EV subscriber, has sold up. “When I bought my electric car in December 2016, I paid much more than I’d ever paid for a car before. I thought it was the last car I would ever need. But I moved from a house with space outside for a charging point to a flat without it, and the lack of reliable public charging points made it impossible. There is a live internet chart, Zap-map, which is supposed to show you where there are charge facilities and to give specific information on which administration card is required at each and whether it is working or blocked. But the info is reliant on users filing updates (as with Trip Advisor). I was told that the ‘rapid’ charger at Marina was out of action for three weeks while the provider obtained spare parts from France.

“I don’t blame the council. It’s a national problem. But meanwhile I am back to the ICE – internal combustion engine”. 

There are, according to Zap-map, over 25,000 charging points across the UK, though only a minority are ‘rapid’. No doubt the combination of government incentives to buy ULEVs (though the current regime is due to expire in March this year without any clear replacement) and the threat of long term banning of petrol and diesel vehicles will induce higher sales in due course. And it will eventually pay private providers, including supermarkets, to lay on adequate charging facilities. 

Cllr Evans agrees that, ideally, the council should take more of  a lead – not only focusing on the tourist trade, but also on the town’s other growth industry: care, she says, has a huge car carbon footprint, with care workers constantly zipping around town in often inefficient old cars. She imagines the ideal of a fleet of small electric vehicles in their place – but that seems, for the moment, out of the remit (and purse) of the council.


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