The UK government has lifted an effective ban on onshore wind farms in England after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was put under pressure by a rebellion from members of his own party.
The government announced today (Tuesday) that it has “streamlined planning rules” for new onshore wind farms.
"Planning policy will be changed to make clear onshore wind developments can be identified in several ways rather than through local plans," said the announcement. "This includes through Local Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders."
It continued that "councils should consider the views of the whole community, rather than a small minority, when considering a planning application. This includes addressing the planning impact of onshore wind projects as identified by local communities."
“This will ensure the whole community has a say, not just a small number of objectors – paving the way for more onshore wind projects to come online where they have community support.”
Local policy on onshore wind will continue to be decided by “elected local councillors, accountable to local people,” it said.
Plans will be taken forward “where they can demonstrate local support and address planning impacts identified by the community”.
Communities backing local wind farms could also benefit from cheaper energy under proposals to incentivise more projects.
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, said: “To increase our energy security and develop a cleaner, greener economy, we are introducing new measure to allow local communities to back onshore wind power projects.”
“This will only apply in areas where developments have community support, but these changes will help build on Britain’s enormous success as a global leader in offshore wind, helping us on our journey to Net Zero.”
The newly appointed Secretary of State for Energy Secretary and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, said renewables are a "crucial part of our energy transition" and "onshore wind also has a key role to play".
"These changes will help speed up the delivery of projects where local communities want them," she added.
The move does not affect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have different regulatory regimes and have been able to progress their own onshore wind projects.
The announcement comes just weeks after ex-UK Prime Minister Liz Trussteamed up with a group of MPs from Sunak’s governing Conservative Party – including COP26 president Sir Alok Sharma – to try and overturn the ban.
Sharma had tabled an objection backed by the MPs to the UK government’s energy bill, which is being debated today in Parliament. MPs are preparing to vote on that bill after returning from their summer break.
The UK’s Labour Party had supported Sharma’s proposal, meaning that, together with the rebel Tories, only six more MPs would have needed to lend their support to the amendment for it to pass.
Sunak therefore moved to lift the ban rather than face a potentially bruising defeat in Parliament.
Sunak has blown hot and cold on onshore wind. He entered office last year pledging to reverse plans from Truss to lift the ban, before backtracking and opening a consultation on reforming the law. However the proposed changes in March left the UK wind industry “bitterly disappointed”.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer, whose party is currently ahead in the opinion polls with a general election due next year, has said that he would not just lift the ban but also require local authorities to “proactively identify” areas suitable for renewable power generation such as wind and solar.
The Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit has estimated the ban on onshore wind cost UK billpayers £800m ($1bn) last winter in the midst of the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The news over the potential U-turn on onshore wind comes ahead of the imminently expected results of the UK’s auction for contract-for-difference power deals for offshore wind farms and other renewables.