Electric cars: Labour brands EV take-up in UK a ‘postcode lottery’ as north-south divide emerges

Four times as many drivers in London have switched to electric vehicles compared to the North East, as campaigners call for regions to be levelled up

A north-south divide is opening up in Britain’s adoption of electric cars, exclusive analysis by NationalWorld shows.

Take-up of electric and hybrid vehicles is four times higher in London than in the North East.

The capital also has four times the number of charging points, per 100,000 residents, than Yorkshire and the Humber.

With world leaders under immense pressure to step up climate action to tackle dangerous global warming at the COP26 summit, pressure groups have called on the Government to make urgent investments in Britain’s green transport infrastructure.

The IPPR North think-tank said this would “unlock economic opportunity and help close the UK’s stark region divides”.

The Department for Transport said local councils have a “crucial role to play” to encourage uptake of the vehicles.

Labour accused ministers of creating a postcode lottery through a “laissez faire” approach to charging infrastructure.


One of the biggest aims of COP26, now taking place in Glasgow, is to reduce emissions rapidly through phasing out fossil fuels, planting trees and boosting the take-up of electric cars.

NationalWorld analysed official figures on ultra low emission vehicles (ULEV) to see how different parts of the UK compared.

The figures include battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and fuel cell electric vehicles.

London, with its long-standing congestion charge, is leading the way on the take-up of electric cars, the data shows.

Around one in every 40 vehicles (2.3%) is now electric or hybrid.

But the South East and South West also fare better than the rest of the UK in terms of the proportion of vehicles which are now electric.

The North East has the lowest take-up in the country.

Only one in every 150 vehicles (0.6%) in the region is electric or hybrid.

In terms of access to charging points across England and Wales, thirteen of the top 20 council areas are in London, analysis of official data shows.

Top of the list is Westminster, with 392 charging points per 100,000 residents.


Labour said a postcode lottery is emerging.

‘Laissez faire approach created postcode lottery’

Kerry McCarthy, the Shadow Minister for Green Transport, told NationalWorld: "The Government’s laissez faire approach to electric vehicle charging infrastructure has created a postcode lottery.

“We still have nowhere near the number of public charge-points we need and it’s no wonder that many people are still reluctant to switch to an electric vehicle.

“Part of the problem is that many local authorities, following a decade of cuts, don’t have the resources and expertise to bid for funding or to plan and install charging infrastructure. The Government has provided no support for them to hire specialists with this knowledge.

“Labour’s plan for an electric vehicle revolution would end this regional divide by prioritising the roll out of charging infrastructure in left-out parts of the country."

‘Stark region divides’

Jonathan Webb, researcher at IPPR North, said: “Electric vehicles have a key role to play, alongside greater use of public transport and more active travel.

“At the moment, the uptake of electric vehicles is largely concentrated in more urban areas. There are also discrepancies between the regions, with uptake in London being significantly higher when compared to the North East.

“The Government needs to up its ambition when it comes to transport investment.

“Only by increasing its investment in electric buses, new cycle highways and EV infrastructure will the UK reach net zero.

“Alongside the environmental benefits, investing in transport will help better connect places. This will unlock economic opportunity and help close the UK’s stark region divides.”


Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “There are several factors at play here.

“Alongside the headline number of electric cars that are on the road in any given area you also need to consider: how urban or rural an area is and hence what sort of journeys people might be making, the availability of electric vehicles at dealerships, the number of public charge points, how many dwellings have off-street parking provision to allow for home charging and whether there are local congestion or emission restrictions which make battery-electric cars more attractive than those powered by petrol or diesel.

“Ultimately, drivers in the North East – as elsewhere - will only invest in electric cars if they make financial sense and are easy to use.

“This is where councils have a big part to play by helping commercial operators provide charge points through favourable planning rules and setting ambitious green transport goals for their districts.

“Currently, the government is consulting on whether there should be statutory obligations on councils to plan for and provide EV infrastructure.”

Steve Gooding from the RAC Foundation said drivers will only buy electric cars if they are easy to use.

‘Crucial role’ for local councils

Middlesbrough, in the North East, is the lowest council area in England for take up of electric cars.

Just 0.3% of vehicles registered in the area are electric or hybrid.

The City of London topped the table, with more than 1 in every 10 (10.8%) vehicles registered in the area now electric or hybrid.

Within one year, Stockport has seen the biggest leap in electric drivers with 4,478 new ULEVs registered since April 2020.

The Department for Transport says it’s likely because Lex Autolease is based there - the UK’s largest business leasing company.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “Local authorities have a crucial role to play in enabling the transition to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) and addressing local air quality and climate emissions.

“Their leadership and action through local transport and planning policy can help support local ZEV uptake, and make sure it is integrated with wider local transport strategy.

“UK government is working closer than ever with local authorities, to encourage uptake of central government funding and ensure more widespread regional and local action in this space.

“We will continue to work to help mainstream capability and leadership, leading to local action to support ZEV uptake across every part of the UK.”

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.