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Norfolk in fast lane of electric dream

PUBLISHED: 23:00 16 April 2009 | UPDATED: 08:58 06 July 2010

Norfolk is being urged to seize the moment and put Norwich in the fast lane of the government's £250m vision of getting more drivers into electric cars.

Norfolk was last night urged to seize the moment and put Norwich in the fast lane of the government's £250m vision of getting more drivers into electric cars.

Ministers yesterday unveiled radical plans to make electric cars a reality with drivers accessing grants of up to £5000 to buy one from 2011.

Electric cars can range from £10,000 for a two-seater My Car to up to £70,000 for a top-range Tesla Roadster but ministers want to do more to bring them into the price range of the average motorist because of the impact on carbon emissions.

The government is also seeking bids from places interested in becoming “electric cities” to showcase and promote the technology and pay for the installation of charging points - with a strong belief locally that Norwich could be the perfect location.

Around 200 electric cars would also be available in city centres for the public to test drive.

Norfolk engineering firm Lotus, which has helped developed the Tesla Roadster technology, urged transport chiefs to get behind a city bid, claiming one in five motorists in and around Norwich could be driving electric within a decade.

Simon Wood, its technical director, said both city and region were perfectly placed to take advantage of the scheme and government grants to get motorists to buy electric were “exactly the right answer”.

He said it would bring business benefits to the wider region and boost the use of “ultra low carbon” cars which could also include those powered by biofuels.

“I think it would be fantastic for the city,” he said. “It just seems so obvious. As a regional centre it has got well defined boundaries and a good park-and-ride network.

“There are lots of people who live in or just outside of Norwich who commute daily. That's really where the electric car wins, and £5,000 off one of the lower price cars is probably enough to make people have a look at it.

“If the city and county councils were really positive they could say no-one could come into the city centre unless they had an electric car - otherwise they could leave their car at the park and ride.”

Currently electric car owners can get free parking permits in Norwich, while Chapelfield Shopping Centre car park is the only one locally where drivers can charge up.

The plans would also allow areas access to £20m to improve infrastructure such as charging stations and other types of infrastructure.

Brian Morrey, Norwich city council's executive member for sustainable development, said: “It sounds like a good idea if they are willing to put the money in.”

But he said with council funding tight it would be down to the government to find most of the cash, adding: “I would like to know more of the details because I don't want it to become another one of these things that's going to cost us an arm and a leg.”

Marcus Armes, of the Carbon Reduction Initiative (Cred), said he was planning to talk to bosses at UEA, which is developing a renewable power plant capable of supplying electricity to the cars, to see if they would support the idea.

“I don't think it's a panacea, but electric cars have really got a part to play - 60pc of journeys are under 25 miles, and there is a lot of commuting going on in Norwich, so it would be a sensible idea for the city,” he said.

Adrian Gunson, cabinet portfolio-holder for planning and transportation at County Hall, said he would be happy for Norwich to look at the electric city idea but feared vehicles would not be viable in rural areas. And he was against banning traditional cars from the city centre.

“Anything that reduces pollution in the city is a good idea and well worth looking at, but for rural areas there are questions about whether the technology has reached the point to encourage people to go to the extra trouble of having one,” he said.

But Rupert Read, Green Party transport spokesman at City Hall said the investment would only work if supported by a “massive shift” towards renewable energy.

The AA welcomed the initiative and said while cities like London and Manchester could be in pole position for the electric city roles, Norwich could also be well placed because it had a car club, where electric cars could be used.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, who yesterday took a spin in an electric car with Lord Mandelson, said cutting road transport CO2 emissions was a “key element” to tackling climate change.

“The scale of incentives we're announcing will mean an electric car is a real option for motorists as well as helping to make the UK a world leader in low carbon transport,” he said.

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