LURB is currently going through Parliament, and began its report stage yesterday, where the bill and proposed amendments are debated in the House of Commons.
Earlier this week, prime minister Rishi Sunak delayed votes on the bill, after almost 50 backbenchers signed an amendment that would seek to weaken targets on local councils to build more homes in their areas.
Amid this debate, it emerged that Simon Clarke MP, who was briefly the Levelling Up secretary under Liz Truss’ premiership, has also tabled a new clause seeking to revise current guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework to permit local planning authorities to grant onshore wind applications.
Clarke was reported to have told The Times’ Red Box reporter that: "If we're going to have some anti-growth amendments on the bill we might as well have some pro-growth ones too".
Under pressure from backbenchers in 2015, former prime minister David Cameron’s government ordered that onshore wind projects could only gain planning permission if they met two key criteria: the proposed area must be identified as suitable for wind power within the local or neighbourhood plan, and any impacts must have been fully addressed and the development therefore has the backing of the local community. The restrictions amounted to a de-facto ban.
In former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s September mini-budget, he had proposed to overturn these restrictions, but Sunak appeared to reverse this decision weeks later when he told Parliament that he would “stick with what we said in our manifesto” when directly asked whether he would lift the ban.
He said at the time that he was focused on “more renewables, more offshore wind and more nuclear”.
Clarke’s amendment would allow local planning authorities to install new onshore wind farms on sites not previously used for generating wind energy, and repower existing installations.
The move has been welcomed by many working in the green sector. Joe Tetlow, senior political adviser at the think tank Green Alliance, told ENDS that it would be “interesting to see how many Tory backers Simon Clarke gets for his amendment and whether opposition parties decide to row in behind it”.
“In the famed mini-budget, the unblocking of onshore wind was announced to no fanfare whatsoever, whereas the fracking announcement brought down the government. Onshore wind is popular, clean, cheap and can add £10 billion to the economy simply by relaxing planning and allowing private capital to do the work.”
He added that given the UK is in an energy security crisis, energy price crisis, and an economic crisis, “unblocking onshore wind is a no brainer”.
Sam Hall, the chair of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) - which includes a 150-strong parliamentary caucus of green-minded MPs, has also come out backing Clarke’s amendment, writing on Twitter that “more onshore wind in England would cut bills, carbon and gas imports, and is popular with the public”.
He added: “Crucially, his proposal would give local areas the final say on new onshore wind. I hope MPs back it.”
Chief executive of the trade body RenewableUK, Dan McGrail, told the Financial Times that the amendment is “timely because the block on onshore wind in England is depriving homes and businesses of cheap electricity at a time when international gas prices have sent bills through the roof”.
He continued: “Onshore wind should be put onto a level playing field with other power sources especially as the overwhelming majority of people support it in every opinion poll, including over 80% of Conservative voters.”