Thursday, April 18, 2024

Rishi Sunak ‘poised to allow councils to give go-ahead to onshore windfarms

Rishi Sunak is reportedly planning to revoke the ban on building new onshore windfarms in order to head off a row with Conservative MPs for the second time.

Ministers are preparing to introduce changes to planning rules that will allow councils to give the go-ahead to turbine proposals where there is broad public support, according to the Telegraph.

The amendment to scrap the ban on new offshore wind was put forward by the former Cop26 president Alok Sharma and has since drawn support from a group of Tories including Liz Truss, who are “confident” that it will pass.

Sharma 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.”

Labour also supports the proposal, meaning only six more Tory backbenchers would need to vote in favour to overturn the government’s majority.

The Telegraph said ministers had been locked in talks with MPs for almost a week over a compromise deal to avoid a bruising Commons defeat. Negotiations were set to continue on Monday, but plans were being drawn up for a minister to submit a statement to the Commons this week committing to change the existing planning rules.

Once the rebels in question have secured the necessary guarantees, they would drop their amendment.

Since 2015, an objection from a single resident can prevent a windfarm from being built. Councils can approve new sites only if they can show that local concerns have been “fully addressed”.

According to government sources, the changes would allow councils to “more flexibly address the planning impacts of onshore wind projects as identified by local communities” and allow farms to be built “when it has been demonstrated that the planning impacts have been satisfactorily addressed”.

The new guidance will stress that developers must “act on concerns and suggestions” from residents and that councils can only approve them where “there is community support”.

Under the changes, local authorities will also be given more discretion to choose the location of new onshore wind projects.

One Tory MP supporting the amendment said No 10 had little choice but to act, given that it was supported by “senior people from all wings of the party”.

The announcement will mark the second time that Sunak has been forced to act on the issue after coming under pressure from MPs in his own cabinet. When he took office last year, he pledged to keep the ban in place, before a rebellion by backbenchers two months later prompted him to U-turn.

Facing backlash once more from Tory MPs who oppose the construction of new windfarms, the prime minister promised that rules would be drawn up to ensure local communities are fully consulted before any new project can be built.

In December, Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, said Sunak was “in office but not in power” and that he and Michael Gove were “being forced into this position because they’re too weak to stand up to another backbench rebellion”.

She added: “We will need to see the detail, but if it is a fudge that leaves in place a very restrictive system for onshore wind – the cheapest, cleanest form of power – it would continue to deny Britain lower energy bills and improved energy security during an energy crisis.”