Is Rishi really in charge? Sunak performs another climbdown over onshore wind farm ban after also caving to Tory rebels on housebuilding targets
- Rishi Sunak makes a fresh climbdown in the face of a threatened Tory revolt
- PM strikes a compromise with backbench MPs over onshore wind farms
- Government to explore how onshore wind farms can be built with local support
- Communities that consent to new turbines may benefit from lower energy bills
- PM has already backed down on housebuilding targets in levelling up legislation
The Prime Minister has already this week reached a deal with Conservative rebels on housebuilding targets, as part of the Government's flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.
And Mr Sunak has now struck a compromise with a group of around 30 backbench Tory MPs over wind turbines.
The Government tonight announced a 'technical consultation' will be launched on proposed changes to national planning rules on onshore wind farms.
Following talks with rebel MPs, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it would explore how onshore wind farms can be built with local support.
DLUHC also said it would explore how local communities that wish to build onshore wind farms could benefit from them, such as through lower energy bills.
'Under the proposals, planning permission would be dependent on a project being able to demonstrate local support and appropriately address any impacts identified by the local community,' it said in a statement.
'Local authorities would also have to demonstrate their support for certain areas as being suitable for onshore wind, moving away from rigid requirements for sites to be designated in local plans.'
Rishi Sunak has now struck a compromise with a group of around 30 backbench Tory MPs over wind turbines
A Tory rebels' effort to overturn the de facto ban on new onshore wind farms had been led by Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary
Mr Clarke's proposed amendment to the levelling up legislation was being backed by the PM's immediate two predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson
The Tory rebels' effort to overturn the de facto ban on new onshore wind farms had been led by Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary.
He was attempting to force ministers to alter planning rules within six months to allow local authorities to grant onshore wind applications.
A proposed amendment to the levelling up legislation from Mr Clarke was being backed by Mr Sunak's immediate two predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.
This had dramatically heightened the threat of a House of Commons defeat for Mr Sunak.
Sam Hall, director of 'Green Tory' group the Conservative Environment Network, said tonight: 'I’m delighted the Government will end the de facto block on new onshore wind in England, unlocking this cheap, clean power source where communities agree.
'This is an important step to strengthen our energy security and cut people’s bills.
'It’s vital that the plans, when finalised, ensure communities get a genuine say without making it impossible for new projects to be approved.'
During this summer's Tory leadership contest, Mr Sunak had vowed not to ease restrictions on the construction of new onshore wind farms - a position he subsequently maintained when entering Downing Street in October.
There has been a de facto ban on new onshore wind farms since 2014 when former PM David Cameron tightened planning rules for onshore wind developments, with a requirement for more local consultation.
Under pressure from his backbenchers, Mr Cameron claimed the public had become 'fed up' with onshore wind farms and also scrapped their Government subsidies.
As a result, no new substantive onshore wind farm has received planning consent since 2015.
But, in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and resulting volatility on energy markets, there have been calls for the ban to be lifted.
Earlier this year, prior to his ousting as PM, Mr Johnson was revealed to be planning to reverse the reforms brought in by Mr Cameron.
But he later backtracked and promised not to introduce 'wholesale changes'.
Mr Johnson's successor, Ms Truss, quietly lifted the effective ban on new onshore wind farms as part of her disastrous mini-Budget.
Like most of Ms Truss's agenda, that was soon abandoned as her premiership fell apart in the face of financial chaos.
Mr Clarke yesterday pointed to opinion polling that showed two-thirds (66 per cent) of Tory voters supported the ban being overturned.
'We should return the decision to local communities rather than have a de facto blanket national ban,' he said.