The increasing move to electric vehicles (EV) is driving demand for public charging stations and shopping centres are taking advantage by converting their parking spaces to charging stations. Various specialist companies are licensing the parking spaces and installing the charging equipment.
While the demand for EV charging stations is clear, there are planning and building approval issues that need careful consideration by property owners and managers.
Categorising charging stations
Charging stations are seen as a new retail service, not as car parks. Essentially, a shop selling electricity through retail dispensers.
Depending on the planning scheme provisions, EV charging stations might fall under the same definition as a traditional service station, as is explicitly the case under the Brisbane City Plan. Designation as a service station could change the development approval requirements.
Irrespective of the relevant use definition, charging stations are categorised for retail use which might require a new development approval or a change to an existing approval.
Parking spaces are often a mandated requirement under a development approval or planning scheme. There may be a minimum number of car parks required for the shopping centre. A change from parking spaces to EV charging stations could breach a requirement concerning the minimum number of car parks or parking spaces.
If the car park is undercover, that part of the shopping centre may also require a new occupancy certificate. Car parks are class 7 under an Occupancy Certificate. Shops (and service stations) are class 6.
Fire safety concerns
The reclassification could also trigger a fire safety assessment and changes to fire safety systems. According to the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council Guideline on "Incidents Involving Electric Vehicles" (published 5 May 2022):
- the risk of "thermal runaway" is higher during charging and immediately after
- temperatures can rise to about 1,000 degrees Celsius
- multiple toxic and flammable gases are released.
The ACT Fire & Rescue has published Fire Safety Guide 22 to deal with electric vehicles and EV charging equipment, and mandates a special hazard report to identify risks relating to electric vehicles and charging stations.
This is an area that will see continuing regulatory evolution as the relevant risks are better assessed and understood.
This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.