This was the 5th my series of proposals to our Council’s Strategic Finance Committee aimed at transforming the rates base of Newry Mourne and Down and making our ratepayers financially better off. As is usual in these posts, I am using the example of other Councils who are already doing it.
Our Council has more than 184 Carparks logged as assets. 51 town centre car-parks managed by the Economic and Tourism directorate in Council and another 133 situated near Council premises managed by the Leisure Directorate in Council .
I have already suggested in THIS POST how the 133 Leisure car-parks can be used to wipe out the Council’s £1 million pa electricity bill. This time I am examining our 51 town centre car-parks.
INTRODUCTION – £65 MILLION POUNDS pa LOOKING FOR AN OWNER
Stormont’s research department estimates that 5% of UK Households’ average weekly expenditure was spent on road fuel. This is based on an average of £21.60 per week spent on motor fuels per household. This gives our District an annual estimated domestic total £68.5 million. Add further £31.7 million by commercial vehicles. In total almost exactly £100 million is being spent on fossil fuels for transport in Newry Mourne & Down. Likely higher, as we are rural area.
Within 10 years this £100 million of fossil fuel will be converted to sales of £65 million pa of electricity based on todays prices and the average improved price efficiency ratio of electric vehicles. Stormont’s research Department estimate that 35% of household live in homes unsuited to installing home EV chargers. So thousands of local people and tourists will have no-where to charge unless we act.
Our Council managements and owns all the main 51 town centre car-parks in the District. (called ERT car-parks by Council staff). This means that Newry Mourne and Down has 3 choices;
- Copy Dundee Council and take advantage of generous funding initiatives and install EV charging points powered by our own renewable PV panels. Giving NM&D a giant slice of the projected £65 million sales in our area to the benefit of the ratepayer.
- Encourage entrepreneurs in our District to provide this service and generate rent and rates incomes off them (this option is compatible with option1 as we can do both) to the benefit of the ratepayer
- Do nothing and import energy from other Council areas and have multinationals provide the charging points. £65 million of local disposable income will continue to flow out of this area. This latter option will give a big boost to the rates of other Councils in N.I..
HOW ALLIANCE STARTED THIS CAMPAIGN
Alliance Councillor Patrick Brown (now MLA) gave me crucial support in this campaign at a time when there were only 6 working charging points across not just the 200 car parks our Council owns – but across over 20,000 parking spaces in both the public and private sector in South Down and South Armagh. The only rapid charger in the district in Newry had been broken for 3 years.
We brought our first motion in December of 2021 suggesting that we copy the Dundee model of acquiring grant-aid for EV chargers and investing in PV thereby turning our dead assets into a revenue-earning service for the public “In the Newry Mourne and Down District Council area there are over 7000 officially designated parking bays spread over 180 carparks between Carryduff and County Monaghan. Mostly managed by AHC with a small number managed by ERT. These have a total of 13 charging points with 6 of these not currently working. This means that only people with large front gardens with the capacity for charging points can have electric cars in Newry Mourne and Down.
Council sets a target for every carpark to have one charging point within one year, and for 5% of all Council-managed parking bays to have charging points by the year 2022/23. Ramping up from there to meet the Government’s target (both North and South) of no new diesel or petrol cars being sold by 2030. If possible, this program of investment will mimic Dundee Council and be a long-term revenue generator for Council.” See First EV motion brought to Council by Alliance
This motion prompted a rather silly report from Council management in May 2022 suggesting that it would cost council millions of pounds to meet these targets. It looked lie management were trying to bury the motion. See silly Council Response aimed at burying the motion
Working with Newry Alliance Rep Helena Young we called a meeting of EV charging companies in Warrenpoint, where they conformed that they would be prepared to rent car-parking spots off Council and even be prepared to share revenues with Council from people charging at these spots the same as they do with hotels or other sites.
At this point, we made introductions to Council management and put forward a motion that reflected what the industry was offering to Council – a second best compared to Dundee but good revenue for dead Council assets none the less – with the prospect of Council owning the assets after the contract period. Alliance’s second motion to give a new target to management was in October 2022 and as follows; “Council notes that last year’s notice of motion seeking a target of between 80 and 181 EV charging points in NM&D car-parks resulted in a management report in May 2022 suggesting that such charging points would cost £12,000 each and as much as £2.7 million in total with thus no business case. Thus a target of 1% of parking spaces (80) or 1 per Council car-park (181) was unrealistic from a cost point of view.
Council notes that new information has emerged to back the suggestion that EV charging companies want to lease car-parking spots from Council throughout the District and are prepared to share charging revenue with Council. Far from costing money, EV infrastructure going forward can be seen as a new form of Council revenue.
Council resolves to seek long-term rental and revenue sharing opportunities with EV infrastructure companies to keep Newry Mourne and Down District Council competitive in Tourism , Business and to replace the rates being lost by the on-going closure of filling stations across the district.
Within 3 months of this motion, Council will make an open offer of 6 tranches of 20 parking spots to all 3 EV charging companies operating on the Irish/NI grid system as a trial run for a 2-year period.
Following the 2 year trial of the offerings by the different EV charging companies; and based on service and value for money to Council; long-term contracts should be made with companies offering the best solutions to residents and visitors alike to Newry Mourne and Down District Council”.
WHAT HAPPENED SINCE ? More than a full year later in December 2023, we are still a long way from Council delivering anything on these targets. But council management are working at partnering with the East Boarder Region on a project that has some of the elements of our second motion to deliver 24 charging points.
In my view this project uses public funds to deliver EV charging points by the private sector on our Council parking spots and the private sector would likely have done this without the public funding. Dundee Council took this public funding for themselves and have built up a significant set 0f assets as we suggested in our first motion above.
Also, this project is being delivered to our Leisure Centre Carparks, rather than our 51 town centre carparks. So these charging points will be locked at night time.
On a positive note, we will likely get possession after the 7 year contract and could still use these assets to build up Council profitable assets like Dundee Council. Also on a positive note, they are using power from our Leisure centres and thus were we to switch to PV panels to power the centres we could significantly increase our margin on electricity sales. good value for the ratepayer?
At least we are getting a few more chargers in the District – far from the target set above and not fulfilling demand from either car-owners or EV charging companies. But we are making progress.
The Dundee model – using council carparks to attract capital and long-term income – what I wrote to my fellow Councillors on the Finance Committee
The Dundee model of preparing for the New Circular Economy
Our Enterprise Regeneration & Tourism Department runs 51 strategically placed carparks with 4000 parking bays across our District. Council also has 133 AHC carparks & shares at least 20 others like the 2 big carparks on the Down Campus. We have >10,000 bays needing maintenance and insurance. Our carparks are ‘dead costs’ losing us money overall annually.
Many of you were at the Council’s Climate Change Symposium in March. You saw the very impressive presentation from Dundee’s Fraser Crichton, Corporate Fleet Operations Manager of Dundee City Council.
Fraser explained how Dundee’s Council had made a strategic decision to place Dundee at the heart of the New Circular Economy. He explained how this applied to the ownership of carparks and the way in which they managed their vehicle fleet (covered in next discussion document).
They were leveraging their ownership of carparks all around their Council area to attract investment from the EU, Westminster and the Scottish Government. They won ten grants delivering ownership of £8 Million pounds worth of charging infrastructure across their Council. This would provide a growing income to the council going forward.
Many of charging points are integrated with PV panels and batteries. Cars can charge at any time of day and night. Council keeps rates low for the moment, passing on subsidies from the Scottish Government. Council can move to market rates when EV adoption has reached a higher point.
51% of the population of the Dundee Council area lives in multi-unit buildings or less well off areas. This means that the Council is enabling not just well-off people in large houses with their own carparks in the garden to switch to EV’s as in N.I.., but the whole population plus visitors.
The location of charging points had been consulted upon widely. The taxi trade had been involved and suggested locations outside the Council area like the airport or on land belonging to hospitals to ensure that any typical journey could be served by EV’s in the Council area.
New Grants Fraser was currently dealin
g with 2 new grants. The first was £2.5 Million to upgrade 3 more major carparks across the Council area. Each of the upgraded carparks would have a large area able to charge 20 cars at a time with PV panels above them and a large suite of integrated batteries for night-time charging.
Batteries would also be able to access cheap night-rates to top themselves up Tesla style or even be paid to take excess load off the grid.
The second grant was for £550,000 to install 9 ‘hubs’ of 6 chargers around the Council area that ‘pop up’ out of the ground on sensing an electric car.
WHAT I SAID AT STRATEGIC FINANCE COMMITTEE
WHAT NEWRY MOURNE AND DOWN DISTRICT COUNCIL CAN LEARN FROM DUNDEE.
Our 51 strategically situated TOWN CENTRE/ ERT carparks are not ‘dead assets’ requiring maintenance and insurance. They are potentially both sources of free grant capital and annual cash revenue. It can also be part of our Tourism package and our Enterprise package securing our place in the New Circular Economy. We have over 8,500 individual parking spots over nearly 200 car-parks from near Carryduff to Crossmaglen. And more from sites like the Down Public Sector Campus that we share with other agencies.
Our ‘dead assets’ can make Newry Mourne and Down District Council one of the most attractive places to be in a more progressive New Economy Northern Ireland. And make us money SO WE CAN REDUCE RATES TO THE RATEPAYER.
They can be part of our social responsibility to give all ratepayers have access to affordable transport. Ensuring that not just the well-off that benefit from the low running and maintenance costs of EV’s.
£100,000,000 is spent on diesel and petrol annually in our District. If Council is proactive and works with local businesses – all transport fuel expenditure can stay in Newry Mourne and Down District by 2030 and not simply flow out to Saudi in fuel cost or Westminster in taxes.
Council dominates parking provision in our District with probably in all over 10,000 bays. Council does not have an accurate record of all our car-parks. The Department of Infrastructure has only ~ 900 spread across Newry, Downpatrick, Newcastle, Kilkeel and Warrenpoint.
Our domination of car-parking in our District means that the migration to EV’s over the next 5/10 years cannot happen without us – so we are either going to be forced to do it – or we can embrace it as a money-making opportunity like Dundee.
I propose that we request Dundee’s EV infrastructure team be asked to do an audit of our car-park infrastructure. That we request them to provide Council with a plan for attracting large amounts of capital investment and long term income from carparks and prepare us for the EV transition.
I spoke to Fraser Crichton their lead transport manager at our Council-run Climate Change Conference. Dundee would be happy to draft a business case for us if we were to cover the cost of someone working over here for several days.
Councillor Cadogan Enright October 2020