Consultation on allowing local authorities to green light wind farms if they have local support to start before Christmas

The government is set to relax rules on building onshore wind farms in England after Conservative MPs threatened to rebel.

Restrictions requiring wind turbines to be built on pre-designated land will be rewritten following pressure by 34 backbenchers led by former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke.

The group, which includes former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, signed an amendment to the government’s Levelling Up Bill to ease the rules.

Levelling up secretray Michael Gove said a technical consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework will be launched by Christmas and conclude by April next year.

Onshore wind England shutterstock

Under the existing rules, companies in England can only apply to build onshore wind turbines on designated land within councils’ local plans.

The new proposals would allow wind turbines to get planning permission if they have local support and no longer need to be designated in local plans, while communities which back them could have their energy bills lowered.

The consultation will explore how local authorities demonstrate local support and respond to views of their communities when considering onshore wind development in England.

Gove said the new rules would move away from the current “rigid requirements” for sites to be designated in local plans.

It is another U-turn by prime minister Rishi Sunak, who had endorsed the restrictions during his unsuccessful summer leadership contest.

Clarke said the concessions were a “sensible agreement reached this evening which will enable onshore wind to be delivered while enshrining the vital principle of community consent”.

He added: “Poll after poll shows this is what people want to happen. What I and fellow Conservative MPs have said is simply that communities ought to be able to make this decision for themselves, rather than have Whitehall rule it out.”

A survey by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in March found public support for onshore wind was 78% with just 5% opposing.

“Communities ought to be able to make this decision for themselves, rather than have Whitehall rule it out.”

Simon Clarke, Conservative backbench MP

But the government is also facing claims that the concessions are cover for plans to green light the first new coalmine in a generation.

High profile MPs including Kwasi Kwarteng, Alok Sharma and Robert Buckland have spoken out over the plans for the mine, which would be located near Whitehaven in Cumbria.

>>See also: Will onshore wind stage a comeback?

A decision on the mine is expected today. It had been initially approved in 2020 before the plans were halted after international criticism in advance of the UK’s presidency of the Cop26 UN climate talks in 2021.