An EV Strategy for Everyone: Lambeth Council look at the bigger picture

By Councillor Rezina Chowdhury, Deputy Leader of Lambeth Council and Cabinet Member for Sustainable Lambeth and Clean Air

When I read the heartbreaking words of Rosamund Kissi-Debrah on the loss of her nine-year old daughter Ella to air pollution from the South Circular Road, I knew we needed to act faster on this issue. Air pollution is a poison running through our community that wrecks, shortens and takes lives and as cabinet member with responsibility for air quality at Lambeth Council, I am determined that we stop it now.

The London Borough of Lambeth is home to more than 317,000 people, a place where thousands more come to work, and millions come to visit each year to see the sights and our famous landmarks. It is a place with a long history of fighting for social justice, equality and calling for progressive change to make peoples’ lives better.

It was in that rich tradition that we became one of the first local authorities in England to declare a Climate Emergency in January 2019 to recognise that urgent climate actions need to be taken now, not kicked into the long grass for future generations to deal with. 

We knew we had to devise policies that were sustainable, fair, and just, while also planning for the long-term vision of a borough that was less dependent on cars and had better infrastructure around active travel to help people lead healthier lives.

The case for clean air

We were confronted by the fact that air pollution, including the toxic emissions pumped out of the exhausts of petrol and diesel cars, is killing people in our city. While dirty air comes from many sources, councils have the powers and tools to tackle pollution from transport and so I will focus on this here.

The Local Government Association estimates that air pollution leads to more than 9,400 premature deaths each year, costing the NHS between £1.4bn to £3.7bn. We know in Lambeth that around a quarter of air pollution comes from road traffic, while having one of the lowest car ownership levels in London with only around four in ten households having access to a private car or van.

It was clear we needed to treat the climate crisis as a public health crisis too.

Foundations for change

Two years ago, the council published its Climate Action Plan to set out bold and ambitious targets for us to reach Net Zero by 2030. It outlined measures we need to take to reduce our carbon footprint as a council, as well as how we need a behavioural shift away from motor vehicle dependence to healthier, more active ways to get around.

Analysis of Net Zero pathways by the Greater London Authority informed our target that the overall vehicle journeys in the borough needed to fall by 27 per cent, while improving active travel routes so 85 per cent of future journeys are completed by walking, cycling, scooting, or wheeling.

Central to our response to air pollution is the roll out of low traffic neighbourhoods across the borough. I know there are concerns about displacement among some in the air quality community. However, the evidence from our LTNs is that when you give people safe walking and cycling routes they leave their car at home and traffic falls both on neighbourhood and boundary roads.

Furthermore, I think it is important to look beyond individual schemes in the short term and ask ourselves whether air quality would be better in a city full of LTNs or one without them. For me, the answer is both obvious and borne out by the evidence. LTNs are strategic and will save many lives in the long run.

At the same time, we are realistic that some households will need access to motor vehicles for a variety of circumstances, like residents with a blue badge or who need a car club to move a bulky item. We support disabled drivers by granting dispensations at some of our LTN filters and giving free parking to blue badge holders.

We encourage residents and businesses who otherwise need a car to drive cleaner vehicles and we price our parking permits so that more polluting cars pay more. We recently published an Electric Vehicle (EV) strategy to support the transition to cleaner vehicles.

The UK Government has recently pushed back plans to stop the production of petrol and diesel vehicles until 2035, but the demand for EVs is growing already.

EVs are not without their significant drawbacks, not least the environmental damage caused during the production process and ongoing air pollution from their tyres and brakes. They will not do anything to address the hundreds of people being killed on London’s roads every year.

We do not want streets clogged with vehicles – whether electric or fossil fuelled.

Instead, the balance had to be struck between providing the EV infrastructure for the residents who needed it, without losing sight of our desperate need to embrace sustainable, active and healthy travel.

Transport Poverty

Encouraging more people to switch up to EVs also does nothing to address the issue of transport poverty where households struggle to make ends meet purely to keep their car on the road because of a lack of alternative options.

To break the chain, we are already committing significant funds to improving alternative forms of travel so households can feel confident in giving up their vehicles but still being able to easily travel throughout the borough. 

We are investing in new Healthy Routes to create safe ways to complete journeys around Lambeth while avoiding main roads and busy junctions. Road danger is another factor in whether people feel confident switching from their cars, so simply replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with EVs will not change that.

The social justice of car dominated cities is also stark – data shows people living in our most deprived areas are 2.5 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a collision on the road.

These considerations were crucial when our project team sat down in 2021 to begin to plan what a future  Lambeth EV Strategy could  look like.

Lambeth Electric Vehicle Strategy

The council’s challenge was to devise a long-term strategy that maintains our commitments to active travel and ending car dependency, with our responsibility to provide the EV infrastructure that will be needed by some residents in 2030.

Initial conversations were held across the whole of Lambeth Council to understand the needs of different service areas and the requirements of a future EV fleet. Further conversations were held with housing estate residents and some of the larger employers within Lambeth’s gig economy.

The team then commissioned research to map out the present demand for EV charging infrastructure and how that may change year-on-year. This data allowed the project team to forecast how many charging points will be needed now and in the future.

It required a delicate balancing act between ensuring the infrastructure is in place for EV, while making sure Lambeth does not become one giant battery-park for EVs.

This data modelling will also help shape delivery plans for charging points each year to make sure they accurately reflect the demand. We will also consider the placement of charging points, so they are in the correct places and at the correct density.

The Lambeth Electric Vehicle Strategy also outlines the types of charging points that will be available, from regular, fast, and rapid speeds. We want to make sure the types of charging points are appropriate for each proposed location. The regular speed charging points are more suitable for residential areas where drivers can plug in overnight, while the fastest rapid charge points are better suited near busier areas.

Finally, our strategy means Lambeth council will be the owner and operator of this new EV network rather than looking for a partner in the private sector. Our model ensures any revenue generated by the charging points will be reinvested back into the council to support other projects, meaning the initial investments help make the network sustainable. It will help us get more value for money for our residents, as well as making this financially sustainable in the long-term.


Action on air quality has never been more urgent and requires action to encourage the shift from private fossil fuel vehicles to active travel and EVs where necessary. At Lambeth Council, we are driving this shift through changes to our streets, parking policies and EV strategy. We are already seeing cleaner air, and car ownership in the borough is declining, but we won’t stop until everyone can breathe air that the World Health Organisation has determined to be safe.


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