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You Canít Do That!

September 11, 2023

Peter Guest

Woking is a small town southwest of London. You may have heard of it as H.G. Wells made it the setting for his masterpiece “The War of the Worlds.” The town center has always punched above its weight offering a good selection of retail therapy much larger than the borough’s population justified. This wasn’t good enough for the local politicians who decided they wanted to build a new Singapore on the edge of London. It didn’t work and the council has gone bust with billions of pounds of debts. 


The immediate effect of this is that the council has to stop all non-statutory spending, that is not do anything that they are not required to do by law and look at ways of increasing income from anything that makes them money. Inevitably, the council has announced that they will be increasing parking charges by 20 percent, which they cannot legally do. The power to charge for parking is traffic law which allows charges to be levied to manage traffic demand. It’s not a fiscal power and charges cannot be levied to raise money. This is not my opinion but was set out unambiguously in the High Court in a landmark judgement some years ago.


There seems to be good news and bad news for the electric vehicle dream this month. First, the bad news. Far from sales accelerating as we approach the magic date of 2030 when the government mandates that ICE car manufacturers should stop, sales of new EVs seem to have stalled. So much so that Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW are all struggling with EV sales down 30 to 50 percent compared with a year ago. Volkswagen in particular, are in trouble. Over 20 percent of the ID models produced so far this year are still unsold and they are moving the production line to part-time. Adding to their woe is the increasing presence of Chinese manufacturers like Geely and Nio which have an increasing presence in Europe, especially as their product quality improves.


However, on the up side, Toyota has joined in the rush to introduce a more viable battery technology. As reported last week, both Toyota and Volkswagen have announced new battery technologies that overcome the triumvirate of weight, refuelling time, and range. In just a month the tone of reports seems to have changed from talking about interesting trials, lab tests if you like, to near-market reality. Maybe there will be a viable EV alternative to the ICE after all?


I am increasingly of the opinion that His Majesties Government’s standard response to any adverse comment, challenge or fact related to their headlong charge to an EV future is to stick their collective fingers in their numerous ears and sing LA, LA, LA very loudly, and either rubbish, or simply ignore any inconvenient truths that might cast doubt on their new religion. An example of the former would be the research by Volvo, not an organization renowned for hyperbole or farfetched claims, which showed that if one takes full account of both manufacture and use 10 EVs produce more pollution than an equivalent ICE vehicle in the first 10 years of life. Not true, said HMG. No rebuttal, no counter-prevailing research, just not true.


An example of the latter is perhaps the work done several years ago by the University of Edinburgh, which reported that EVs, being heavier, produced more particulate pollution from brake and tyre wear (sorry, tire) and are causing greater damage to the road surface! The government response was and is a deafening silence, as in “I think I’ll just ignore it and it’s bound to go away.” It hasn’t and now another learned institution, the University of Leeds, has carried out further research looking at the damage to the road. To cut a long story short, an average EV does over twice as much damage as an ICE equivalent. It’s simply down to weight. 


The research showed that on average EVs weigh 312Kg more than the ICE alternative and as the impact is proportional to the fourth power of the axle weight (if a vehicle weighs twice as much it causes 16 times as much damage), they are a disaster for Britain’s aging road infrastructure. Over the last decade or so the government has massively under-invested in road maintenance to the extent that it is now estimated that it would cost £12 billion to put our roads in good order. Far from prioritizing this national disgrace, the rate of repairs seems to be falling. If EV numbers continue to rise it can only get worse. 


At the moment, the effect is mainly being experienced on our older minor roads, as newer high-speed roads are being built to withstand the effects of large flows of heavy goods vehicles. However, the research warns that, with the advent of electric buses and lorries the increase in annual road maintenance costs would be hundreds of millions of pounds, which is, of course, unbudgeted.


Meanwhile, the general increase in vehicle weight has claimed its first car park structure victim. Bracknell is a medium-sized town to the west of London with a newly refurbished and thriving shopping center. Now the local council has announced that one of the town center car parks has structural problems because of the ever-increasing weight of the cars being parked in it. Their plan, which seems to me to be an absolutely splendid way of reassuring the parking public (NOT!), is to close the center bay in each set of three bays, so as to reduce the deck loading. The car park will be permanently closed at the end of the year and presumably demolished and rebuilt. Worryingly, from my imperfect memory, most if not all of the main town center car parks are of similar age and similar construction. The first of many, methinks.



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