Andrew Mellor argues for a common design language and some joined-up thinking
It is predicted that the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on UK roads will be as many as 10 million by 2030, rising to 36 million by 2040. The current number of fully electric vehicles on our roads is approximately 75,000. The government announcement that all new vehicles must be not fossil-fuelled from 2040 will drive the anticipated uptake.
Other influencing factors include motor manufacturer reputation (eg Volkswagen launching its ID range following “dieselgate”), increasing concerns with air quality and, of course, climate change. The latter factor is proven by the number of design and construction industry companies which have elected to support the forthcoming global climate change strike on September 20.
The rise in EV numbers will have an effect on the built environment. Petrol station numbers will reduce, unless they adapt and provide EV charging and amenity services for waiting drivers and passengers. A number of the principal fuel companies are already adapting stations in anticipation.
Motorway service stations, roadside restaurants, tourist destinations, hotels and public events are all going to need to adapt to receive large numbers of clientele in EVs, otherwise they will lose business. Businesses will also need to consider installing charging points at their premises to charge their own vehicles and potentially those of employees.
In May 2018 there were just under 10,000 public charging points and it was estimated that by 2020, a further 23,000 would be needed. Having recently visited OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) at the Department of Transport, I observed at least two types of public charging points on the street outside. They were very different from each other in terms of visual appearance.
In all likelihood we will see a proliferation of charging points appearing on our streets. Surely there should be a design competition to agree an acceptable local design typology or at least design guidance on size, colour etc. Otherwise we will have a large variety of different charge points positioned in our urban environment in an ill-considered manner, akin to the multi bike hire schemes found in our cities today. Both EVs and bikes are part of a necessary urban mobility solution but each needs more consideration of its impact on the urban environment and the resultant clutter on pavements and lay-bys.
Of course EV charging brings commercial opportunities for some landowners, if and when the network providers and charging providers work out exactly where drivers will need charging points.
The government also consulted last month on the future requirement for all new homes to have an EV charger. This will have cost and technical implications if all new apartments have to have a charging point with their allocated parking spaces – and of course maintenance and management implications including how the electricity is paid for.
The local electricity infrastructure may well need upgrading as a result of multiple EVs charging, pushing development costs upwards and introducing a need for space for electrical equipment.
We are being told that the future is autonomous vehicles and many of the main motor manufacturers have prototypes to show this year. So does this mean that the EV charging infrastructure will become quickly redundant? And will the need for parking outside homes and businesses become obsolete as car ownership reduces more and more? Does it also mean that in the future road markings and signage will no longer be required as human drivers will eventually be a thing of the past?
What is certain is that change is coming and that vehicle infrastructure and its impact on the urban and rural environment needs careful consideration by all involved, from local authority officers to designers, if we are to get it right and minimise adverse impacts.