UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has delayed goals to roll out electric vehicle and heat pumps in the country, while stressing planned “comprehensive” reforms to energy infrastructure including grid connection.

Sunak on Wednesday pushed back a ban on buying new petrol and diesel cars in the UK from 2030 to 2035, in a move likely to infuriate the electric vehicle makers. He also said people will have “far more time” to transition from gas boilers to heat pumps.

Moments after the announcement, criticism was already being voiced fiercely by companies, green groups and political opponents.

Friends of the Earth UK claimed: “Rishi Sunak is being environmentally reckless and economically inept.

“The government is already being taken to court over its weak and feeble climate action plan, which we say is unlawful. If this current package is weakened further, and in a way that’s not transparent about delivery risks, then further legal challenges are inevitable."

Jenny Curtis, managing director at Vattenfall Heat UK, said: "The UK cannot afford to stall the deployment of low carbon heating by sending mixed messages about the future of fossil fuels. Companies will stop investing and the establishment of the supply chain and skills base that we so desperately need will fail to happen."

Sunak said he remained committed to the UK’s target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but wants to take a “pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach” to this.

He said one of the “biggest constraints” to reaching net zero is that there is huge investment in renewable energy projects but the UK lacks the grid infrastructure to bring the energy to households.

He claimed there are enough renewables projects waiting for grid connection to “generate over half of our future electricity needs.”

Sunak continued that his government would bring forward “comprehensive new reforms to energy infrastructure” and set out the UK’s “first ever spatial plan for that infrastructure” to “give industry certainty and every community a say.”

Those changes to energy infrastructure had already been expected following a government-backed report this summer that targeted cutting the up to 14-year wait time for new projects of that kind by half.

Sunak also emphasised that his government has just lifted a de facto ban on onshore wind projects in England. However this was only done after a rebellion in his own party and industry has already slammed the changes made as inadequate and unlikely to stimulate investment.

Sunak also cited the success of the UK’s offshore wind industry, although that too has suffered recent calamity after developers were a no-show at a government tender for green energy projects due to the price they could charge for power being set too low.

The policy U-turns by Sunak come as he faces pressure due to terrible polling numbers for his Conservative Party heading into a general election next year. He seems likely to have been tempted to roll back on green commitments after unexpectedly winning a local by-election by campaigning against green policies in London.

Earlier in the day, RenewableUK CEO Dan McGrail had said that Sunak must “put in place some new policies to attract investment in green technology to the UK – otherwise it will just be another blow to investor confidence.”

If Sunak pursues a “negative framing of green technologies” and sees green industry as “something to be politicised,” he said investors are “going to look overseas at more stable and attractive markets instead.”

E.ON UK CEO Chris Norbury meanwhile denied there was any “green v cheap” debate and that delaying renewables targets based on the cost of living crisis in the UK was a “false argument”.

Sunak’s predecessor Boris Johnson said that the country “cannot afford to falter now” or “lose ambition” when it comes to green tech.

Across the Atlantic, former US Vice President and climate change campaigner Al Gore weighed in by saying that Sunak is doing “the wrong thing” by weakening green goals, describing the move as “unfortunate.”