Rishi Sunak makes policy U-turn as he approves new onshore wind farms

British Prime Minister opposed building new turbines onshore during his previous failed Conservative leadership bid

The move amounts to an about-turn on Rishi Sunak’s opposition to building new turbines onshore and follows a Tory backbench rebellion against the existing de facto ban on new projects. AFP
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has bowed to pressure from Tory backbenchers and agreed to allow new onshore wind farms by committing to examine how local communities consent to projects.

Planning permission for new farms would be dependent on demonstrating local support and “appropriately” addressing any impacts identified by the community, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said.

The government will ensure “strong environmental protections” remain in place, the department added.

Ministers will also seek views on developing partnerships with “supportive” communities, so those who wish to host new developments can see some benefits, such as lower energy bills.

The move amounts to an about-turn on Mr Sunak’s opposition to building new turbines onshore, set out in his failed first bid for the Conservative leadership.

It follows a Tory backbench rebellion against the existing de facto ban on new projects, joined by former prime ministers Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.

Both former leader signed an amendment to the government’s Levelling Up Bill tabled by Simon Clarke, who served as a minister in each of their administrations, to allow the development of onshore wind.

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Ms Truss moved to relax planning rules during her short tenure at No 10, but Mr Johnson did not attempt to overturn the ban, which has been in place since 2015, when he was in office.

His energy security strategy did, however, raise the prospect of lowering energy bills or providing other benefits for a “limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure”.

Calls to end the ban on new onshore wind farms have grown amid efforts to secure the UK’s energy independence as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has squeezed supplies.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer has vowed that a Labour government would scrap the planning ban as part of its plan to make the UK a clean energy superpower.

“The government commits to launching a technical consultation to explore how local authorities demonstrate local support and respond to views of their communities when considering onshore wind development in England,” the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said in a statement.

“Decisions on onshore wind sites will continue to be made at a local level as these are best made by local representatives who know their areas best and are democratically accountable to the local community.”

To deliver a more localist approach, the statement continued, and to stay in line with its commitments under the British Energy Security Strategy, the government will consult on proposed changes to national planning policy.

“Under the proposals, planning permission would be dependent on a project being able to demonstrate local support and appropriately address any impacts identified by the local community,” the statement said.

“Local authorities would also have to demonstrate their support for certain areas as being suitable for onshore wind, moving away from rigid requirements for sites to be designated in local plans.”

The technical consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework will be launched by Christmas and concluded by the end of April 2023.

Updated: December 07, 2022, 6:16 AM