U-turn on the horizon for onshore wind as Sunak bends to pressure from Tory rebels

An effective ban on onshore wind may soon be lifted in areas “where communities are in favour of it”, business secretary Grant Shapps has suggested, after pressure from backbenchers.

Former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke tabled an amendment to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) last week which would allow new onshore wind projects in England. A significant group of conservative MPs supported the motion, including former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Clarke’s amendment would seek to revise current guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework, implemented in 2015 under David Cameron, that currently means onshore wind projects can only gain planning permission if they are suitable for wind power under the local plan, and if any environmental impacts have been fully addressed, as well as impacts on the community. These strict requirements effectively blocked onshore wind.

Under Clarke’s amendment, local planning authorities would be able to grant onshore wind applications where there is local support.

The move came soon after Sunak delayed votes on the bill, when almost 50 backbenchers rebelled and signed an amendment that would seek to weaken targets on local councils for house building.

Shapps suggested to Sky News that prime minister Rishi Sunak has “always” argued that onshore wind could happen with local consent, and that the potential u-turn was not in response to the support garnered for Clarke’s amendment, including from the labour party.

Shapps told Sky News: “Simon Clarke has put in an amendment, which I haven’t studied all the ramifications of yet. But it’s essentially saying what I just said to you, for local people to have a very, very keen say in this, which is indeed government policy.

“There are always different ways to skin a cat, as it were, but we will have a close look at what is being proposed.”

However, during Sunak’s leadership campaign against Truss this summer he pledged “to scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind farms in England, providing certainty to rural communities”.

COP26 president Alok Sharma also backed Clarke’s amendment, and said on Twitter: “Putin’s illegal and brutal war in Ukraine has reinforced that climate & environmental security are totally interlinked with energy and national security.

“Faster deployment of renewables, including onshore wind, is needed to deliver on the UK’s 2035, 100% clean electricity target.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: “Lifting the ban on onshore wind in England is a no brainer. It’s cheap, clean, plentiful and popular with the public – and has a key role to play in tackling the cost-of-living and climate crises.

“Earlier this month Rishi Sunak pledged to make the UK a clean energy superpower. It’s time to start delivering.”

Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said: “In the next few days, the government has the opportunity to put facts before ideology and scrap one of the most absurd and damaging policies ever introduced by a UK government. It’s taken too long but it’s not too late to do the right thing and bin the ban.”