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First £70m of government’s 2020 Rapid Charging Fund to boost motorway EV chargers

Rishi’s £1bn pledge for motorway charging cash is still locked in the consultation phase as a ‘pilot scheme’ is announced

Fiat 500 connected to a Gridserve rapid charger

The government has allocated £70m to help motorway services get the power connections they need to upgrade to ultra-rapid charge points for EVs.

With the automotive industry and consumer research both pointing towards the perceived lack of sufficient charging infrastructure as one of the barriers to electric car uptake, the government has been notably slow in acting to speed up infrastructure development.

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Rishi Sunak announced the £1bn Rapid Charging Fund back in 2020 when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, yet this is the first sign of any money being spent, and the government is calling it a ‘pilot scheme’ only. There’s still an ongoing consultation due to end in February 2024 as the Department for Transport tries to work out how the money should be spent, and it’s still not accepting applications for grant funding under the scheme.

The high cost of the electricity supply infrastructure needed to power ultra-rapid chargers at often hard-to-reach motorway locations is believed by some to be a barrier for private investment, which the government is relying on to power the UK’s transition to electric motoring.

The £70m will be offered in grants to 10 motorway service stations to help unlock the business case for upgrades, and has been described as a ‘pilot scheme’ to help work out the most efficient way to spend the government’s Rapid Charging Fund. 

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Others believe funding by global energy companies is already in place, and say bureaucracy and the intervention of the Competition and Markets Authority which argued against a single charging company having a monopoly at any single motorway site, has delayed progress. 

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Nevertheless, Transport Secretary Mark Harper was bullish when speaking about the announcement yesterday: “This Government is on the side of drivers and working with the private sector to provide robust chargepoint infrastructure is part of our Plan for Drivers.

“This £70m pilot scheme is the starting point and sends a message to consumers and industry that we are investing wisely and rapidly to grow the future of transport in the UK.”

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said the transition to battery EVs is dependent on reliable charging at key locations like motorway services.

“New chargers are being installed all the time, but roll-out speeds need to increase drastically to keep up with demand,” he said. 

“However, our understanding is that it’s not for a lack of industry wanting to install new chargers – the problem charge point and motorway service operators are finding is that it takes too long to connect units to the high-powered electricity network. We hope this money, which is from the Rapid Charging Fund announced by the Prime Minister more than three years ago, goes some way towards changing that.”

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Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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