The coalition Government's green credentials were called into question yesterday after it scrapped plans for a nationwide network of recharging points for electric cars.
The Department for Transport, which had planned to have 9,000 recharging points by 2013, has decided that the programme is not viable. The scheme offers matching funds to local businesses and public sector partners who install the points.
At present there are about 700 points. The 8,600 electric vehicles expected to be sold by the end of this year would require some 4,700 points.
In a new strategy document, the department said: "Most recharging is likely to take place at home and at work, so an extensive public recharging infrastructure would be under-utilised and uneconomic."
It wants most recharging to take place at night, after the peak in electricity demand, supported by workplace charging for commuters and vehicle fleets, and a limited amount of public infrastructure. John Woodcock, Labour's transport spokesman, accused the Government of smuggling out the U-turn on Thursday under cover of the strikes by teachers, lecturers and civil servants. He said Parliament had not been told.
"The Conservative-led Government is desperate to hide the fact it is failing to live up to its boast to be the greenest government ever," he said.
Mr Woodcock pointed out that the Coalition Agreement signed last year pledged to "mandate a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles". He added: "The lack of fanfare for the electric cars announcement, and the fact it was published when the news agenda was dominated by the public sector strikes suggests that ministers were attempting to bury bad news."
Mr Woodcock said: "People will be highly suspicious about the way ministers have slipped out this broken promise to help drivers switch to electric vehicles."
The Labour frontbencher has submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act in an attempt to find out how the decision on the handling of the announcement was taken.
Ministers denied Labour's claim as "ridiculous", producing a press release they issued on Thursday about the change of strategy.
Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, said: "The ability to re-charge is a key part of the jigsaw in supporting the growth of the electric vehicle market. It is crucial, therefore, that we make the process as simple as possible.
"Public chargepoints are part of the answer but putting a chargepoint on every corner is not the right approach.
"It is most convenient for drivers and best for the energy system for the majority of charging to happen at home. "
The Committee on Climate Change has said that the UK needs to have 1.7 million electric vehicles by the year 2020 to be on course to hit ambitious carbon-reduction targets.