UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to U-turn on a de facto ban imposed on proposals for new onshore wind farms as pressure from Members of Parliament (MPs) mounts in the Commons.
MPs are preparing to vote on the government’s controversial Energy Bill on Tuesday. According to the Telegraph, there will be changes to planning and permitting rules for onshore wind projects that will make it easier for local councils to approve proposed wind farms if there is broad support from surrounding communities.
Labour, the country’s opposition party, and a significant group of Conservative MPs already back an amendment to the bill, first proposed by Alok Sharma, who served as the president for COP26. Signatories include former Prime Minister Liz Truss. The Telegraph reports that ministers have been locked in a week-long debate over a compromise deal that would avoid an distasteful Commons defeat for Sunak. If a deal is reached and MPs are given the necessary assurances, the amendment would be dropped.
Current rules, which were signed into law in 2015 by then-Prime Minister David Cameron, state that an objection from just one resident can stop an onshore wind farm from being built, essentially putting a de facto ban on new projects. Cameron said at the time that the public were “frankly fed up with so many windfarms being built”.
Government sources have said that proposed changes to the bill would allow local councils to “more flexibly address the planning impacts of onshore wind projects as identified by local communities” principally by loosening the requirements on what counts as community support.
One Conservative MP in favour of the plan told the Telegraph: “It’s great to see ministers listening to concerns and, providing local communities are happy, it will make net zero easier and cheaper too.”
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Details are still being decided ahead of a potential vote on Tuesday. When Sunak came to power last October, he pledged to keep the ban in place, reversing a decision by Truss to revoke the moratorium. In December, Sunak changed his stance again, swayed by those in his party who wanted to see the revival of onshore wind in the country. However, new rules passed responsibility for project approval to local authorities, leaving room for any residents opposed to wind farms to halt nearby developments. Pressure to remove this caveat is now mounting.
Sir Alok said: “The Government committed to change planning rules by the end of April 2023 to overturn the de facto ban on onshore wind, but this has not happened to date.
“This amendment therefore seeks merely to deliver on the Government’s own promise and help to unlock investment in one of the cheapest forms of energy, and ultimately bring down household bills and improve the UK’s energy security,” he added.