Prime minister Rishi Sunak is under pressure to drop the government’s de facto ban on onshore wind in England with rebel Tory MPs set to force the issue to a House of Commons vote in the coming days.
Simon Clarke, who was levelling-up secretary under former prime minister Liz Truss, has tabled an amendment to the levelling-up and regeneration bill which is currently before Parliament.
The move by the prominent backbencher comes less than 24 hours after Sunak was forced to delay a critical vote on planning reform in the face of a growing rebellion among his own MPs.
The clampdown on new onshore windfarms was originally introduced by David Cameron when he was prime minister in 2015 to placate a growing number of Tory party members who were opposed to them.
Truss announced she was scrapping those onerous planning restrictions in September during her shortlived premiership in a bid to spur a rapid expansion of onshore windfarms – one of the cheapest form of renewable power.
But after replacing her in Downing Street, Sunak again blocked the technology, despite his broader ambition for a big increase in renewable generation.
Clarke’s amendment would force Michael Gove, who replaced him as levelling-up secretary in Sunak’s cabinet, to allow onshore windfarm applications by revising the government guidance known as the National Planning Policy Framework.
In an attempt to reassure other MPs, Clarke’s amendment would ensure that the projects could only go ahead where they had the backing of councils by preventing developers from appealing to the national Planning Inspectorate when their schemes are rejected.
Clarke said the politics around wind turbines had changed since the Cameron ban seven years ago. “I think there is such a compelling case in terms of economic, environmental and political rationale as well as energy security, to put decisions on wind farms in the hands of local communities rather than having a hardline block,” he said.
Downing Street said it wanted to study the amendment before commenting.
Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network, said allowing an expansion of onshore wind was a “brilliant idea” given the energy crisis facing the UK.
“Onshore wind is one of the cheapest sources of energy generation, polls show it is popular with voters, including Conservative voters, including those in the countryside,” he said.
“The current system – which allows an objection by just one person to stop a new development – is not conducive to helping us tackle our energy crisis and get more home-grown energy.”
Dan McGrail, chief executive of the trade body RenewableUK, called the amendment “timely because the block on onshore wind in England is depriving homes and businesses of cheap electricity at a time when international gas prices have sent bills through the roof”.
McGrail said that no other technology had been subjected to this “draconian” ban.
“Onshore wind should be put onto a level playing field with other power sources especially as the overwhelming majority of people support it in every opinion poll, including over 80 per cent of Conservative voters,” McGrail argued. He added that onshore wind farms can be built in as little as a year once all relevant permissions are granted.
A Labour spokesperson said the party backed onshore wind as part of a strategy to reach 100 per cent low-carbon electricity generation by 2030.
Sunak told the COP27 climate gathering in Egypt that renewable energy was a “fantastic source of new jobs and growth”, arguing that investing in green power was the way for Britain to “insure ourselves against the risks of energy.