Electric car charging points sit unused across Sunderland

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ELECTRIC car charging points are sitting empty across Sunderland with some used just twice in the past year.

Figures obtained by the Echo today reveal many of the city’s charging zones, costing thousands to install, have barely been used since going “live” in a blaze of publicity.

One point at a car park in Seaburn has been used just twice since last July.

Another charger, on the first floor of Sunderland City Council’s civic centre car park, has also only been used on two occasions, although council bosses described it as “faulty”.

Sunderland has put itself at the forefront of the electric car “revolution” with Nissan in Washington, supported by Prime Minster David Cameron, ploughing millions into the building the Leaf.

At the time of the switch-on across the city in February 2009, Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson said: “We have the charging points, we have the cars, it is all systems go.”

Ten of the 30 charging points in council-owned car parks across Wearside have been used less than 10 times in the past 12 months; 17 less than 20 times, while only five have been used more than 50 times.

The top charging point, by some considerable way, is on the second floor of Sunniside car park in the city centre.

It has been used 849 times. But this is barely a drop in the ocean according to automotive industry expert professor Garel Rhys.

He said: “Even the top figure of 849 isn’t that much.

“The figures should be a wake-up call that the cost of the vehicles is going to have to come down considerably before people start buying them.

“Cost is the key. While electric cars like the Leaf remain highly priced, they will not be able to compete against an already excellent product in the petrol and diesel vehicle.

“Everyone committed to electric cars must be disappointed with their take up across the UK and Europe. The cost is eye-watering, even with the Government subsidy.”

Earlier this year, Nissan attempted to attract more Leaf customers by changing the pricing structure on the vehicles.

Cars now bought with leased batteries mean buyers can get behind the wheel of an entry-level Leaf for £15,990 – £6,000 less than previously.

But Mr Rhys thinks this will still not attract customers. He said: “Even with all the subsidies, most people are not going to buy them while they can buy a petrol or diesel car cheaper.” Figures obtained by the Echo reveal six of the city’s 30 charging points have either been closed of reported faulty at some point during the past two years.

In total, between July last year and the end of this July, the 50 charging points, which includes council and those privately operated, were used for more than 1,600 charging transactions.

Councillor James Blackburn, from Sunderland City Council, said: “It is anticipated that the number being used will grow as more people change to electric cars, particularly with Nissan employees now having Leaf cars and Nissan building these cars.

“In Sunderland, 99 per cent of all residential, industrial and retail developments within the city boundary are within a 1.5mile radius of a charging point with 90 per cent being within one mile.

“In addition, four charging points have been installed at two council-managed facilities which are business and workplace locations developed to meet the needs of technology and software-based companies, at the Evolve at Rainton Bridge South, and the Sunderland Software Centre at Tavistock Place. “The Government grant funded programme has now ended and the North East is now considered to be the most Electric Vehicle connected charging region in the UK.

“As a region, the North East is ready for the uptake of electric vehicles.”