Driving forces behind plans to bring electric vehicle charging points to East Devon’s public car parks are ‘mystified’ the move is being used to justify controversial price hikes.
The district council is proposing a 50 per cent increase at its busiest sites – and making free facilities pay-and-display – to net an extra £400,000 a year.
Among reasons for the move, officers say ‘significant investment’ is needed to cater for more environmentally-friendly motors.
EDDC could have to fork out £6,000 per special bay, according to a report detailing the mooted tariff changes.
A motion calling for a costed programme that would ensure at least 10 electric charging points are provided in East Devon’s principal car parks was backed by councillors in July.
But Liberal Democrats – who have championed provision for electric and hybrid vehicles – have questioned the need for price increases.
Councillors Eleanor Rylance, Luke Jeffery, Sarah Chamberlain and Fabian King told eastdevonnews.co.uk in a joint statement: “The inference that the rise in charges is partly due to the planned installation of EV [electric vehicle]charging points in car parks is mystifying, as the motion, passed in July, was to do scoping work, which will include establishing a budget and availability of grants for installation of these charging points.
“In the absence of completed scoping work and a firm budget, introducing a price hike in the car parks in order to pay for them seems very premature.
“While positive action to reduce car use and encourage people onto public transport is crucial in addressing climate change, we feel that a 50 per cent cliff-edge increase threatens poorer residents first and puts strain on small independent and town centre shops without their own car parks.
“We feel that the unintended consequence of further threatening the high street at a very challenging time for retail, and hitting people’s pockets so hard at a time when wages are stagnant, is an excessively blunt tool for influencing people’s travel behaviour.
“There is a high chance that excessive car parking charges in the absence of a developed public transport system will instead have the unintended consequence of pushing people to drive in their cars to their nearest out-of-town retail park, where they can park for free.”
Broadclyst representative Cllr Rylance initially brought the electric vehicle motion to the council.
She said: “The car parks owned by East Devon council have proven a very good source of income for a council that is scrabbling down the back of the sofa due to swingeing budget cuts from central government.
“As the scoping work for my EV charging point motion evolves, we will have a better idea of the budget required.
“There will in all likelihood be grants available to help offset the cost of installing charging points.”
EDDC currently manages a portfolio of 50 car parks and is reviewing its tariffs for 2019/20.
The proposed changes will go before its cabinet on Wednesday, October 2, with a view to them going out to public consultation.
Members have been told eight free-of-charge public car parks in Exmouth, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Newton Poppleford, Sidbury and Broadclyst should become pay-and-display.
A 50 per cent rise in charges – from £1 to £1.50 per hour – is also being proposed for a dozen car parks in ‘prime areas’.
The sites where spaces are said to be ‘at a premium’ are in Honiton, Exmouth, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Axminster, Seaton and Beer.
It is hoped the increase will ease congestions and see drivers use ‘less-popular’ car parks.
In a report to cabinet members, the council’s service lead says: “We are currently giving serious consideration to the challenge of providing suitable and sufficient electric vehicle charging infrastructure around East Devon to support what we believe will become an increasing number of visitors and residents who will be choosing to drive electric (or plug-in hybrid) vehicles over the next few years.
“At present, charging infrastructure requires a significant investment amounting to around £6,000 per parking bay.
“Our proposal is therefore to introduce a 50 per cent tariff increase in these most popular car park locations.
“We anticipate that the higher tariff will encourage some customers to switch to our less popular (and less expensive) car parks thereby alleviating some of the parking stress at the most popular locations.
“The additional revenue generated will then be of value within our overall careful choices programme and subject to the usual considerations, the council would be able to consider reinvesting some of that money in accelerating our programme of delivering charging infrastructure locally.
“We propose to increase the hourly charge in the busiest car parks to £1.50 per hour whilst retaining the current £1 per hour tariff in at least one nearby alternative car park.”