Former COP26 president, Sir Alok Sharma, is at the forefront of a campaign urging the British government to relax onshore wind restrictions in England. This push comes in the wake of a commitment made by ministers last year to loosen the regulations by the end of April, following a potential revolt by Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs). However, the government’s response, now expected to be released in the autumn, has prompted Sir Alok to introduce an amendment to the Energy Bill aimed at removing current planning limitations.
The proposed amendment seeks to address concerns that a single objection to an onshore wind project can impede its progress. By eliminating this restriction, the amendment aims to create a more favorable environment for the development of onshore wind initiatives. Moreover, it strives to ensure that communities willing to host wind turbines reap direct benefits from such endeavors while safeguarding local decisions on onshore wind projects from being overturned on appeal.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak now faces a fresh challenge on this issue as it continues to divide Conservative MPs. Despite successfully navigating the rebellion last year, Sunak must now contend with the support behind Sir Alok’s amendment. Prominent figures such as Sir Simon Clarke, former Levelling Up Minister and leader of last year’s rebellion, former party chairman Sir Jake Berry, former chief whip Wendy Morton, and former minister Stephen Crabb have all expressed their backing for this recent move.
The amendment has also garnered support from Tory peer Lord Goldsmith, who resigned from the government last month, citing Sunak’s alleged “apathy” towards climate change. On Twitter, Lord Goldsmith voiced his endorsement of the amendment. However, opposition to onshore wind developments in certain areas due to concerns about their impact on local residents and landscapes remains a contentious issue among some Conservative MPs.
Sir Alok emphasized the urgency of taking action, stating, “This amendment will help fulfill the government’s own promise to unlock investment in one of the most cost-effective forms of energy. Ultimately, this will reduce household bills and enhance our energy security.” The government had previously initiated a consultation on relaxing planning restrictions, but the response is yet to be published.
Under the current planning rules, implemented in 2015 during David Cameron’s administration, a single objection from an individual can halt the progress of an onshore wind project in England. The renewable energy industry has criticized the government’s proposed changes for not going far enough in addressing this issue. According to trade body RenewableUK, the potential for a single objection to block projects may still exist even under the government’s suggested modifications.
Alongside the amendment, the government is also seeking input on plans to enable communities in England that wish to host wind farms to directly benefit from them. This could include incentives such as discounts on energy bills. A government spokesperson highlighted their support for onshore wind, recognizing it as an efficient, low-cost, and widely supported energy source. They also mentioned that potential changes to national planning policy were being considered to grant local authorities greater flexibility in responding to community feedback and identifying suitable areas for onshore wind proposals.
Following the summer recess, the Energy Bill, along with Sir Alok Sharma’s proposed amendment, is set to return to the House of Commons for further discussion. The outcome of these deliberations will have a significant impact on the future of onshore wind development in England and its role in achieving the country’s renewable energy targets.
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