“The internal combustion engine is dead, long live the electric car”

Electric cars charge on a London street in 2015. Image: Getty.

New sales of petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2040 in the UK, which has since been joined by France. Sweden and Scotland will impose the ban by 2032, and Norway by 2025. Coupled with increasing concern over the carcinogenic effects of diesel emissions, the Volkswagen defeat device scandal, and the link between diesel particulates and Alzheimer’s, focus has turned again to electric cars.

There is still much debate about the long-term environmental benefits of electrically powered cars. What fuel mix will the power stations that generate the electricity be using, for example, and what are the implications for the environment of widespread battery production and disposal? Nevertheless, the key message in the Clean Air Plan is the need for an improvement in air quality for the benefit of human health and therefore the removal of petrol and diesel cars from built up areas. It is not an academic argument on the holistic environmental impact.

The electric car actually predates the use of the internal combustion engine in vehicles. Electric vehicles were popular until their complete decline in the 1930s due to cheaper petroleum fuelled cars such as the Model T Ford. Nevertheless, battery technology has now reached a point where it could be a viable alternative to the use of fuels.

In the last decade, manufacturers’ hybrid and electric offerings have grown – but the market is still small. Only 1.8 per cent of new vehicles sold were wholly electric and 3.5 per cent hybrid (a combination of a smaller internal combustion engine supported by electric propulsion) in September 2017, although this represents an increase of 0.3 per cent and 1.4 per cent respectively on September 2016 figures.

According to a 2014 government survey, consumer resistance to adoption is largely due to concerns over recharging and “range anxiety”, with consumers worrying about how far they can actually go on a charge.

In fact, the average annual mileage of a privately owned car in 2016 was 7,500 miles, equating to only 28.9 miles per day – assuming that the car is used for commuting five times per week. This is easily within the range of electric cars, which typically boast ranges of over 100 miles.

Fit for purpose?


Electric cars arguably suit our modern, digital lives far more than the faithful old internal combustion engine – and most of us are now more attuned to plugging in devices that support our daily lives. Surely visiting a fuel station once or twice a week for about ten to 20 minutes should be a rather alien and outdated concept in an instantly connected, plug-in culture many now live in.

Indeed, the idea of plugging your car in at the end of the day is just a logical extension of the need to plug in your phone, your laptop, tablet or even your toothbrush.

But perhaps therein lies the uptake problem. While we have become accustomed to a portable battery orientated culture, we are also very aware of the potential downfalls this brings. We are familiar with the annoyance of our phone running out of battery while we are using it as a sat-nav to get home, or the degradation of a laptop battery over its lifetime, or the ultimate frustration of waking up in the morning to find that our electric toothbrush has run out of charge. Perhaps the modern human consciousness can’t uncouple its infrequent but memorable frustrations with battery technology to recognise the benefits an electric car could bring.

But this may not be an issue among younger generations. My two-year-old son picked up my scale model of a Ferrari 355 (yes, this is being written by a petrol head), pointed to the engine compartment and said, “daddy, batteries go here”. I grew up maintaining cars with my father, so this was quite a shock – but also a revelation. A cultural shift is underway. The knowledge I proudly hold may be irrelevant to my children as they reach driving age – and the joy of explaining the internal combustion engine to my older five-year-old son already seems more akin to teaching history than technology.

There is already a growing infrastructure in the UK for electric vehicles with 14,548 charging points in 5,207 locations (in comparison to 8,459 fuel stations). There are now on-street chargers in most cities and dedicated parking bays in motorway service stations, although access is more limited in rural areas.

Even if charged at home, the range of most current models should be sufficient for the majority of journeys, with the exception of long distance trips, where a change of pace may need to be adopted to permit for the longer charging periods mid journey. For those who typically drive beyond the average range on a more frequent basis, a hybrid vehicle remains the most suitable option.

The ConversationIn any event, after over 140 years of virtually unrivalled domination, the innovation cycle has finally caught up with the internal combustion engine. The internal combustion engine is dead, long live the electric car.

Matthew Watkins is a senior lecturer in product design at Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.