Residents demand a holt to Jolt electric car chargers

EV charging company Jolt has been installing chargers that double as electronic advertising hoardings around the borough, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

A Jolt installation in North Finchley (credit Michael Levitsky)
A Jolt installation in North Finchley (credit Michael Levitsky)

Residents’ groups are demanding a rethink of Barnet Council’s rollout of electric vehicle (EV) chargers after highlighting what they claim are “serious flaws” with the programme. 

Global EV charging company Jolt announced its launch in the UK in November, when it began a partnership with Barnet Council to “provide a network of free, fast and clean roadside charger stations to EV drivers for the first time”.

However, seven Barnet residents associations have now launch a co-ordinated campaign effort to pause the scheme.

Michael Levitsky, co-ordinator of the campaign, said the increase in digital street advertising was their main issue and claimed the council was trying to “steamroll over any objections”. 

“We have been long concerned about the proliferation of digital advertising on our streets. We’re not alone in this in the country and in London,” he said.

He thought the impact on the “street scene” of the units was “significant” and stressed the group didn’t question the “principle” of installing EV chargers to help achieve net-zero CO2 emissions and were “pleased” Barnet had taken a lead on it. 

Jolt’s EV chargers combine vehicle charging with digital advertising units, having a screen on each side. They stand at approximately 2.7 metres in height and 1.2 metres wide.

The organisations now opposing them are Barnet Residents’ Association, East Barnet Residents’ Association, Friern Barnet and Whetstone Residents’ Association, Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association, Federation of Residents’ Associations in Barnet, The Finchley Society and The Barnet Society.

The group has tracked applications and reported that, as of December, 55 planning applications were made across 16 borough wards, of which 18 were approved, eight withdrawn and 26 were pending decisions. 

Michael said that, given the advertising screen’s design, the council should consider the units with regard to planning policies on advertising rather than just EV charging.

He quoted a passage from Barnet’s draft Local Plan, which guides decisions on future development proposals and addresses the needs of an area. Under section 6.34, titled ‘advertisements’, it states: “The council aims to reduce visual street clutter, reducing the number of objects on the street.”

The group believes the Jolt EV scheme runs contrary to this planning policy.

In response Barnet Council has said all existing Jolt sites conform with Transport for London’s streetscape guidance and, where necessary, have passed road safety audits.

It has clarified that locations for the charge points were reviewed by a steering group of officers, a committee that decides on courses of operation, including representatives from highways, town centres and transport, who considered impact on the local area.

Michael has also questioned the environmental impact of the screens and said: “Basically these things are two giant, very bright, 75-inch TV screens back-to-back, with associated electrical units inside. You’re leaving on two huge screens 24/7 so it uses a lot of electricity.”

But the council says energy for the screens are sourced from 100% renewables and the chargers were therefore zero carbon. 

The Jolt scheme is partly funded by a £2.1million grant, as part of the Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) Pilot Project, a government scheme supporting the rollout of EV charging infrastructure. 

Michael added: “It’s a concern they’re spending tens of millions of pounds without having done any consultation about charging or produced any comprehensive framework.

“I think it is incumbent on the council when it applies for central taxpayer government money and uses it to this extent that it provides a clear justification of why it needs it and a clear justification of why it’s being used.”

The council says residents had an opportunity to comment and make proposals in keeping with Section 17 of the Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2013, which states a local authority cannot grant permission until they have “taken into consideration all representations made to them”. 

Speaking on reactions to the chargers already in place, Alan Schneiderman, cabinet member for environment and climate change, said feedback was “very positive” and that some of the advertising went towards supporting local businesses, which helped boost the local economy.

Cllr Schneiderman added the council was committed to making Barnet a net-zero borough by 2042, and Jolt’s EV charging network was “part” of the approach. He said: “Achieving our net zero aims requires us to look for new answers to old problems. As such, we will continue to work with our communities and partners to find the right solutions to get us there.”

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