UK business secretary Grant Shapps has signalled that the government will reverse its ban on onshore wind farms in an attempt to head off a growing mutiny among Tory MPs, including former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
Simon Clarke, the former cabinet minister heading the rebellion, claims more than 30 Conservative MPs now support his amendment to the levelling-up bill, which would make it easier for developers to build land-based wind turbines.
However, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, has been warned that if he drops the current de facto ban, he will face a fresh rebellion from opponents within the party. Under the current rules, an onshore wind farm can be blocked if there is only a single local protester opposed to the scheme.
Proponents of onshore wind power point out it is one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy and is needed if the UK is to meet its target of net zero emissions by 2050. It would also give Britain greater energy security at a time when gas prices have soared because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Downing Street played down a suggestion that the government would accept Clarke’s amendment in its entirety, saying only that it was “considering” the change.
But Shapps indicated the government was open to compromise over the ban, saying ministers agreed with the spirit of the Clarke amendment, which would allow schemes to go ahead but would include a change to the Town and Country Planning Act. This would mean that if a council turned down a wind farm, the developer would not be able to appeal to the national Planning Inspectorate, which under current regulations can over-rule local decisions.
“We are all basically saying the same thing. You need local consent if you are going to have wind power onshore,” Shapps said. “What is being proposed is something which would guarantee that local consent.”
Although opinion polls regularly show high support for onshore wind farms from the public, there is hostility to them among the Conservative party membership.
Former David Cameron brought in the onshore wind ban in 2012 after coming under pressure from more than 100 Tory MPs led by current cabinet minister Chris Heaton-Harris.
Sir John Hayes, an energy minister during that period, said on Monday that he was writing to Sunak to warn him not to accept Clarke’s suggestion. “If he accepts the amendment, I and others will vote against the entire bill,” he told the Financial Times.
Sir John said that after the ban was imposed in 2012, he received “a hundred letters a week” from grateful members of the public.
He added that onshore wind turbines were problematic because they ruined people’s views, led to lower house prices, involved the use of large amounts of concrete and had high transmission costs.
“Do we want to destroy our rural landscape by covering it with industrial infrastructure? Is that the Britain we want to live in?” he asked.
Last week, Sunak postponed a vote on the levelling-up bill in the face of a separate rebellion of almost 50 Tory MPs seeking to scrap housing targets and a presumption in favour of development.