Rishi Sunak tonight made another escalation in the face of a threatened Tory rebellion by backing down on a ban on onshore wind farms.
The prime minister already this week reached an agreement with rebel Conservatives on housing construction targets, as part of the government’s flagship leveling and regeneration bill.
And Mr Sunak has now reached a compromise with a group of around 30 backing Conservative MPs on wind turbines.
The Government announced tonight that a ‘technical consultation’ will be launched on proposed changes to national planning rules on onshore wind farms.
Following talks with rebel MPs, the Department for Grading, Housing and Communities said it would explore how onshore wind farms can be built with local support.
DLUHC also said it would explore how local communities wanting to build onshore wind farms could benefit from them, for example through lower energy bills.
“Under the proposals, planning permission would be contingent on a project being able to demonstrate local support and adequately address any impacts identified by the local community,” it said in a statement.
“Local authorities would also need to demonstrate support for certain areas as suitable for onshore wind, moving away from rigid requirements for sites to be designated in local plans.”
Rishi Sunak has now reached a compromise with a group of around 30 backbench Conservative MPs on wind turbines.
The Tory rebels’ effort to overturn the de facto ban on new onshore wind farms had been led by Simon Clarke, the former leveling secretary.
Clarke’s proposed amendment to the leveling legislation was being endorsed by the Prime Minister’s two immediate predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.
The effort by Tory rebels to overturn the de facto ban on new onshore wind farms had been led by Simon Clarke, the former leveling secretary.
He was trying to force ministers to change planning rules within six months to allow local authorities to grant requests for onshore wind power.
Sunak’s two immediate predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, backed a proposed amendment to Mr Clarke’s leveling legislation.
This had dramatically increased the threat of defeat in the House of Commons for Sunak.
Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network’s ‘Green Tory’ group, said tonight: “I am delighted that the Government is ending the de facto blockade of new onshore wind power in England, unlocking this clean and cheap source of energy where communities agree.
‘This is an important step to strengthen our energy security and reduce people’s bills.
“It is vital that the plans, once finalized, ensure that communities have a genuine voice without making it impossible for new projects to be approved.”
During this summer’s Tory leadership contest, Sunak had vowed not to ease restrictions on building new onshore wind farms, a position he subsequently maintained when he entered Downing Street in October.
There has been a de facto ban on new onshore wind farms since 2014, when former Prime Minister David Cameron tightened planning rules for onshore wind developments, with a requirement for more local consultation.
Under pressure from his MPs, Cameron claimed that the public had “fed up” with onshore wind farms and also removed government subsidies.
As a result, no new substantive onshore wind farms have received planning consent since 2015.
But, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting volatility in energy markets, there have been calls for the ban to be lifted.
Earlier this year, before his ouster as prime minister, it was revealed that Johnson was planning to reverse reforms introduced by Cameron.
But then he backtracked, vowing not to introduce ‘general changes’.
Johnson’s successor, Truss, quietly lifted the effective ban on new onshore wind farms as part of her disastrous mini-budget.
Like most of Ms Truss’s agenda, it was soon dropped when her premiership collapsed in financial chaos.
Clarke pointed out yesterday that opinion polls showed that two-thirds (66 per cent) of Conservative voters supported overturning the ban.
“We should put the decision back to local communities rather than have a de facto blanket national ban,” he said.