Campaigners have urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to end the de facto ban on new onshore wind farms in what they claim is a “no-brainer” as he faces a furious backlash from rebel MPs who are also piling on the pressure. Swathes of backbenchers are calling on Mr Sunak to change tack on planned onshore wind farm laws as a wing of the party feels the ban on new developments is the wrong move amid an energy crisis. However, No10 insiders have claimed it is “very, very unlikely” that Mr Sunak will back down.
Despite this, campaigners at Global Witness are also pushing hard for the Prime Minister to pull a U-turn in a move that they claim would bolster the UK’s energy independence at a time when it remains exposed to volatile global gas markets that are easily manipulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But the campaign group is furious that the Tory civil war is having an impact on the decision-making process, and has urged the Government to get on with it, stressing that the politics should be taken out of a situation that requires immediate attention amid the push for a green transition.
Alice Harrison, Fossil Fuels Campaign Leader at Global Witness, said: “It’s outrageous that in the midst of an economic crisis, a climate crisis and Russia’s war in Ukraine – all crises caused by our dependency on fossil fuels – that it is even being debated whether the UK should boost investment in renewable energy.
“It shouldn’t take political infighting for this Government to be dragged to a blatantly common sense position. If this Government is serious about the green transition, it needs to go further.
“It needs to deploy any additional revenues collected under our windfall tax on energy companies towards a massive scale-up of clean energy, and support our call to close the tax relief loopholes on big oil and gas companies in the North Sea.”
While there has been a de facto ban on new onshore wind farms since 2015, a number of backbenchers, including former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, have been calling for the Government to change its position.
COP26 president Alok Sharma, one of the rebel voices from within the Conservative Party, has said: “Onshore wind is one of the cheapest forms of renewable power and will help to bolster the UK’s energy security.”
But during Mr Sunak’s summer campaign for the Tory leadership, he pledged to “scrap plans to relax the onshore wind” ban. He said back in July: “Wind energy will be an important part of our strategy, but I want to reassure communities that as prime minister I would scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind in England, instead focusing on building more turbines offshore.”
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But the group of at least 30 MPs are calling for an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that would effectively force the Government to end the ban on new onshore wind farms. The MPs need five more MPs to take out the Government’s majority as Labour is also backing the amendment. And the MPs involved reportedly believe they can hit that threshold within the next two days.
The amendment is being led by former levelling-up secretary Simon Clark and it has also gained the support of former Conservative Party chairman and founder of the Northern Research Group of MPs Sir Jake Berry.
Sir Jake told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “Boris Johnson famously used to call wind turbines the white satanic mills of the north of England when they were building them all over my constituency.
“He’s changed his mind on them; I, to a large extent have changed my mind, and I’m going to be supporting Simon Clarke.”
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And while some No10 insiders have claimed Mr Sunak won’t budge, Business Secretary Grant Shapps has hinted that will be more onshore wind projects “where communities are in favour of it”.
He told Sky News: “We already have quite a lot of onshore wind. There will be more, over time, particularly where communities are in favour of it.
“That is, I think, the key test of onshore wind – is it of benefit to communities locally? That has always been the principle for us, for quite some time now.”
When asked whether the Government was about to U-turn on its original stance, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman told the Guardian: “You’ll know there are quite detailed rules around onshore wind and what is allowed – it requires developers to consult with communities in advance [of making] a planning application. So I’m not going to predict what might happen in the future.
“The Prime Minister has talked at great length about his views on where the focus should be on renewables, where he is talking about building more wind turbines offshore in order to boost energy security and also the importance of ensuring communities support any action the government takes on renewables.”