Cop26 chief Alok Sharma says single objections must not stop UK wind farm developments

Conservative MP hopes amendment to onshore energy plans will ease regulations

Wind turbines in Selby, England. British Conservative MP and former Cop president Alok Sharma says single objections should not frustrate planning. Getty Images
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Alok Sharma says he wants the “outdated” right of an individual to veto a wind farm removed.

Mr Sharma, who served as Cop26 president in Glasgow and is a British Conservative MP, said there should be a “direct linkage” between communities willing to host onshore wind farms and a benefit for doing so, such as discounts on their energy bills.

Westminster is expected to overturn a de facto ban on onshore wind farms in a written ministerial statement on Tuesday in the face of pressure from some MPs.

The current rules, introduced under prime minister David Cameron in 2015, require councils to draw up detailed plans showing all the areas suitable for onshore wind development before new wind farms can go ahead, and also mean that proposals can be blocked by a single objection.

MPs who have signed an amendment on onshore wind want to see a “much more permissive planning regime”, said Mr Sharma in a radio interview on Tuesday.

He told the BBC's Today programme: “The current situation we have is that just one objection can prevent a wind farm from being built.

“I mean, clearly, that is not a community veto. And frankly, I don’t think it’s a sensible way for a planning system to operate.

“We want to see the lifting of the current planning restriction, which means that a single objection to an onshore wind development can block it.

“And, of course, allied with this, we want to ensure that local communities who are willing to take onshore wind developments will receive direct community benefits,” Mr Sharma said.

“I think it’s going to be very important to see the detail of what the government puts forward in terms of its ministerial statement, in terms of what ministers say from the Despatch Box. But I hope that the government will have listened and will be willing to move forward.”

The changes would be likely to mean that councils would be given the right to build wind farms if there is community support.

In October last year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to keep the onshore wind farm ban in place. He has since been trying to see off back bench unrest.

On Monday, a Downing Street spokesman said: “Our position on this has not changed. We support the development where there is local support. Applications will continue to be decided at a local level.

“We have consulted on technical changes to the National Planning Policy Framework that would help supportive communities take forward onshore wind projects.

“We are due to set out the responses to those consultations shortly.”

The government’s energy bill will be voted on after Conservative ministers return from the summer break with opposition Labour said to support the proposed changes.

Only six more Tory backbenchers will need to vote in favour to overturn the government’s majority.

In July, Mr Sharma formally proposed an amendment to the energy bill.

His amendment requires the government to show developers how they can demonstrate that local communities support their plans, and how they can provide financial benefits to those communities.

The plan would also prohibit appeals against a decision by a local council to refuse planning permission for a wind farm to ensure that local wishes are respected.

Mr Sharma said in July: “Last autumn, the government committed to change the planning rules by the end of April this year to overturn the de facto ban on onshore wind. Unfortunately, this has not happened.

“This amendment will help to deliver on the government’s own promise to unlock investment in one of the cheapest forms of energy. Ultimately, this will bring down household bills and improve our energy security.”

The amendment had been signed by more than 20 back bench Conservatives, including former prime minister Liz Truss and several other former ministers.

Other signatories include former party chairman Sir Jake Berry, former chief whip Wendy Morton, Wales Committee chairman Stephen Crabb and former levelling up secretary Sir Simon Clarke.

Updated: September 05, 2023, 8:13 AM