Onshore wind rules to be relaxed after Tory revolt

The government has pledged to relax restrictions on building onshore wind farms in England after a threatened rebellion from Conservative MPs.

A rule requiring new turbines to be built on pre-designated land will be rewritten, the levelling up department said.

Over 30 backbenchers had threatened to make the change through a planning bill going through Parliament.

New wind farms would still be subject to local approval.

The precise method of measuring local opinion will be part of a wider consultation which will conclude by next April.

The concession comes after the government agreed to water down housing targets on Monday, to put down a separate rebellion from Tory MPs.

The rebellions had prompted the government to delay the progress of its Levelling Up Bill through Parliament.

Former minister Simon Clarke, who led the rebellion on wind farms, said the concessions offered by the government were a “really sensible package”.

He added that it would ensure decisions on new projects are made locally “rather than have Whitehall rule it out”.

An amendment from Mr Clarke to the bill to ease planning rules had been signed by 34 Tory MPs – including former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said ministers had been “forced into this position because they’re too weak to stand up to another backbench rebellion”.

She said her party would “need to see the detail” – but warned against a possible “fudge that leaves in place a very restrictive system for onshore wind”.

She added that Labour’s own plan, under which the approvals process would be aligned with other energy infrastructure, would lead to a doubling of capacity.

Planning rules rewrite

Under current planning rules, companies in England can only apply to build onshore wind turbines on land specifically identified for development in the land-use plans drawn up by local councils.

The guidance, introduced under former PM David Cameron in 2015, has led to a sharp decline in the number of sites granted approval.

Rishi Sunak had promised to keep this effective ban in place during his unsuccessful summer campaign to replace Boris Johnson as Tory leader.

In a statement, Housing Secretary Michael Gove said the government now intended to rewrite planning guidance to enable local areas to identify sites “suitable for onshore wind”.

He added this would allow ministers to “move away from the overly rigid requirement for onshore wind sites to be designated in a local plan”.

The government will also seek views on developing local partnerships for “supportive communities” – by, for example, granting them energy bill discounts in exchange for hosting new wind farms.

A consultation on this had previously promised by Mr Johnson’s government three months before he was ousted from office.

Greenpeace called the government’s reversal of the effective ban “an absolute no-brainer”.

The campaign group’s policy director Dr Doug Parr said: “This imminent U-turn is like a long-delayed train – we’re wondering why on earth it’s taken so long but we’re glad it’s finally here.

“Onshore wind could have been designed as the perfect solution to the climate and energy crisis.”

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