As Tory MPs threaten revolt, Rishi Sunak eases onshore wind farm rules

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has eased an effective moratorium on new onshore wind farms in England in order to forestall a revolt by Conservative lawmakers.

Ministers have amended planning regulations to facilitate the construction of onshore wind farms. Changes include expanding site identification methods and accelerating the planning process.

Under pressure from some Conservative MPs, the government promised to loosen the regulations by the end of April.

In recent days, however, frustrated Tories have intervened once more to compel the government to keep its promise.

With an amendment to the Energy Bill, a group of 25 Tory MPs led by former COP26 president Sir Alok Sharma urged the government to relax planning restrictions. However, following this morning's discussions with Mr. Sunak, Sir Alok announced he would withdraw his amendment in response to the planning modifications, which he welcomed.

Tuesday in the House of Commons, during a debate on the government's Energy Bill, Sir Alok put down the rebellion.

He stated that the planning modifications "move things forward and will contribute to the delivery of a more permissive planning system," adding that the "de facto ban is lifted."

Under the regulations enacted in 2015 by former British Prime Minister David Cameron, a single objection to an onshore wind development in England could halt its construction.

Michael Gove, secretary for Levelling Up, stated in a statement issued prior to the debate that the government would amend the National Planning Policy Framework, which outlines planning policies for England.

The changes, he said, included "amending the approval tests for proposed onshore wind expansions to clarify that suitable sites can be identified in a variety of ways."

Mr. Gove stated that the government was open to novel methods of demonstrating community consent but he did not specify which mechanism would be used to demonstrate this support.

The announcement made on Tuesday is the second time Mr. Sunak has been pressured by his own MPs to act on onshore wind. When he became prime minister a year ago, he stated that he would maintain the moratorium on new onshore wind farms.

In December of last year, however, in response to a rebellion by his backbench MPs, he reversed his position and declared that the prohibition would be lifted. However, other Conservative representatives have opposed the development of onshore wind farms in their districts due to the impact on local residents and landscapes.

Wind farms are a component of the government's efforts to decarbonize the energy system, halt reliance on imported fossil fuels, and reduce household expenses.

According to reports, The United Kingdom is a world leader in offshore wind, with turbines in the sea generating enough electricity to satisfy the needs of 41% of the nation's homes last year.

The Climate Change Committee stated in a progress report this year that the government had lost its clear global climate leadership by neglecting to invest in renewable energy sources such as wind power.

According to Labour, the Energy Bill is the first major test for the newly appointed Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, Claire Coutinho, who was appointed to the position last week.