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The NC500 really could become a haven for electric cars – and this time we’re not kidding

Lord Thurso has high hopes for electric vehicles on the NC500.
Lord Thurso has high hopes for electric vehicles on the NC500.

The North Coast 500 could be on its way to becoming an electric highway – if the head of Scotland’s tourism agency has his way.

Lord Thurso, the chairman of VisitScotland, wants drivers to ditch fossil fuel-powered vehicles and commit to using low emission electric ones.

Check the calendar, we’re not trying to catch you out again.

If this all sounds strangely familiar it might because on April Fool’s Day in 2021, the Press and Journal reported that private cars would be banned on the NC500 to limit visitor numbers and reduce the country’s environmental footprint.

It caught a few people out. But even some of those who saw through it thought ‘hey, that’s actually not a bad idea’.

A year on – with climate change and sustainable tourism rocketing up the agenda – that pipe dream looks a little closer to reality.

‘If you never aim for it, you won’t ever get there’

Like his name suggests, Lord Thurso knows the terrain.

He served as the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross between 2001 and 2015.

As a hereditary peer, Lord Thurso was also the spokesman for tourism in the House of Lords in the 1990s.

He said: “My vision would be for visitors to arrive in Inverness and pick up an electric vehicle so that they can go around the NC500 with no emissions.

“This would be looking after the environment while lowering carbon emissions as much as possible.

“Net zero might not be possible but if you never aim for it you won’t ever get there.”

Highland MSP Ariane Burgess during a cycling event in Inverness.

It’s a bold vision.

And the principle of it has the backing of Highland Green MSP Ariane Burgess.

“It looks like the P&J were more Mystic Meg than April Fools in the all-electric NC500 story,” she said.

“I think we would all welcome more EV use on the route. I look forward to an era where increased tourism doesn’t mean increased pollution.

“However, we need to be ensuring that the charging infrastructure exists.”

How close is an all-electric NC500 to reality?

Making that leap between a good idea and reality is where the challenge lies.

As Mrs Burgess says, the charging infrastructure needs to be in place first.

But as the P&J’s own research shows, there is a long way to go before we get there.

Last October, reporters Kieran Beattie and Philippa Gerrard hired an electric van for a road trip from Aberdeen to John o’Groats and then south to the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow.

It was far from smooth sailing.

Press and Journal reporters Kieran and Pip having trouble charging their electric vehicle in Helmsdale in 2021.<br />Picture by Jason Hedges.

As Kieran said: “The best way to think of taking an electric vehicle across the north of Scotland is to think of yourself as an explorer, navigating huge swathes of desert with only a few scattered oases to parch your thirst.

“Except you have no idea if the oasis you arrive at will actually work, or be able to give you enough water for your camels in time.”

EVs are fine for ‘pottering around’

Concerns have also been raised by Tim Allan, president of the Scottish Chamber of Commerce.

He said that EVs are fine for “pottering around” but still lagged behind when it came to meeting the needs of businesses.

It’s open to interpretation whether taking a trip on the NC500 amounts to taking it easy.

The Bealach na Ba, near Applecross, is one of the best-known parts of the NC500.

On one hand, it’s a holiday. On the other, plenty people who live along the route have become accustomed to the smell of burning rubber.

VisitScotland though, appears determined to do what it can.

It plans to launch a fund to support the expansion of the nation’s electric vehicle charge point network.

A spokeswoman said: “We know that there is a growing awareness amongst consumers to make environmentally conscious travel decisions.

“This fund will enable businesses to position sustainability at the heart of their recovery.”

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