DfI Blue Green Fund - Unspent

Here is an example, from just last month, of a line often quoted by the Infrastructure Minister in replies to Assembly Questions asking about funding for EV chargers in Northern Ireland…

Funding opportunities for the installation of charge point infrastructure in GB-NI are provided by OZEV. My Department does not currently fund the provision of electric vehicle charge points – Nichola Mallon

These replies give the impression that OZEV is the only source for funding here and that DfI cannot contribute from their own budget. However, in another recent Assembly Question the Minister confirmed her department did part-fund the FASTER Project for rapid chargers here:

I am pleased that my Department has been able to support this EU Funded project to install EV Rapid Chargers – Nichola Mallon

Blue Green Fund

Minister Mallon also has £20m fund, ring fenced for blue/green infrastructure. Over the summer, Assembly question AQW 19908/17-22 asked whether the £20m had been fully spent last year, and if so on what. The Infrastructure Minister replied that the 2020-21 financial year breaks down as follows:

  • £5m on the COVID-19 Revitalisation Programme across all councils.
  • £2.4m for greenway projects across three council areas consisting of Forth Meadow, Lagan Gateway, Strabane North, Strathfoyle, North West Greenways and Banbridge Riverside Walk.
  • £3.7m by my Department on a range of interventions including foot and cycle ways, pop up cycle lanes, crossings and other cycle/foot infrastructure, and social distancing measures.
  • £1.3m for a pilot of electric minibuses for community transport.
  • £150,000 for flood prevention schemes at Forth River and at Belfast Castle
  • £100,000 grant for Belfast City Council for Belfast Bikes
  • £54,000 for the procurement of electric vehicles to replace end of life petrol/diesel vehicles within my Department’s fleet
  • £53,000 for planting and greening schemes.

Opportunity Missed

So then, one third of this fund, over £7M, went unspent. Could this money have been used to improve EV infrastructure here? The Minister certainly seems to think there’s potential to do so and at the Committee meeting on the 24th April this year she stated that:

…I have also said to my officials, through the blue green fund, is there potential there for my department to play a more proactive role in terms of supporting the improvement of the infrastructure, so I agree with you this is an area that needs significant improvement – Nichola Mallon

EV infrastructure is on its knees here, and ESB are asking DfI for between £0.75M and £1.5M of matched funding, which would enable them to replace their entire charging network in NI.

It’s hard to understand how the money from this fund could not have been used to complete this urgent work. The Minister says that projects could not be found that were “sufficiently advanced” to fund:

I would like to have delivered full spend against this budget, and my officials have canvassed widely for projects, but spending often requires complex preliminary work to be sufficiently advanced in what is an innovative area – Nichola Mallon

Matched Funding for Councils

In a new development, just last week, the DfI Minister announced up to £350K of matched funding towards EV charging infrastructure for councils here:

I am pleased to say that I have offered matched funding of up to £350K to those councils who wish to draw down the [ORCS] funding from the British Government – Nichola Mallon

Again this seems to contradict that quote from the AQ at the start of this post – “My Department does not currently fund the provision of electric vehicle charge points”.

ORCS Grant Progress

We talked to Derry City and Strabane District Council as they are leading a consortium of all 11 councils here on the ORCS grant. The group intends to submit a combined application to OZEV/EST before the end of this financial year (April 22).

Locations are currently being considered in each council area, ones that will have 24/7 access and are either on-street or in a car park near houses without off-street parking.

That £350K of matched funding from DfI is intended to make up the shortfall between the OZEV 75% grant and the full amount, so there should be no capital costs to councils here. The final contract looks to be valued at over £1 million and will go out to tender.

EVANI’s Take

We welcome the £350K funding offer from the Minster. While it is a relatively small sum, we hope it will be just the start and that it will also put an end to DfI’s standard reply that they do not fund EV charge points .

NI is falling further and further behind the rest of these islands. We are now down to just one sixth of the GB average for Rapid Chargers per 100K population, and almost one twelfth of Scotland, where the devolved government there have spent over £45M on their EV Charging network to date.


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