Downing Street opens door to U-turn on onshore wind ban

Boris Johnson and Liz Truss - Toby Melville/Getty Images
Boris Johnson and Liz Truss - Toby Melville/Getty Images

Downing Street opened the door to a U-turn on onshore wind farms after Labour said it would support Tory rebels who want to end a ban on them.

On Thursday, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss both signed a backbench amendment to the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill, one of the Prime Minister’s flagship reforms.

The amendment has already been signed by more than 30 MPs and looks set to attract more when Parliament returns on Monday.

Labour has said it would back the amendment – putting the Government on course to a humiliating defeat.

‘We will consider all amendments’

Asked about the threatened rebellion, a Downing Street spokeswoman said the amendment would be looked at.

“We will consider all amendments and set out our position in the usual way,” she said.

“The PM has been clear throughout that we want to support more renewables, for them to come online and the focus remains on building more wind turbines offshore in order to boost our energy security.”

Mr Johnson and Ms Truss made their first major interventions since leaving Downing Street on Thursday, when they signed the amendment to demand an end to the ban on new onshore wind farms.

It came just days after Mr Sunak’s government was derailed by a separate Tory revolt on the same legislation.

The Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill is designed to speed up house building, which is crucial to Mr Sunak’s growth agenda.

But on Tuesday night, more than 50 Conservative MPs rebelled against the section of the bill that imposes centrally dictated house building targets – forcing the Prime Minister to delay the votes until Dec.

That revolt risked the prospect of Mr Sunak only being able to get the measure through with Labour support.

Rebellion looks even more serious

The latest rebellion looks set to be even more serious, because the fact that Labour supports it means it is far more likely to result in a defeat for the Government.

A Labour source said that they would support the amendment but indicated that they are concerned it does not go far enough in levelling the playing field between onshore wind and other infrastructure.

The amendment was laid by Simon Clarke, who was levelling-up secretary under Ms Truss.

It demands that present Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove revises the National Planning Policy Framework to allow councils to grant new onshore wind applications.

The amendment would also force the Town and Country Planning Act to be amended to allow the installation of “new onshore wind sites not previously used for generating wind energy or for repowering existing onshore wind applications”.

‘Especially Boris and Liz’

Mr Clarke said: “I’m very grateful to all the colleagues from right across the Conservative Party who have put their names to this amendment, and especially Boris and Liz.

“Onshore wind is the cheapest form of energy generation open to us and is right for both our energy security and the environment.

“My amendment means it would only be possible for this to proceed where there is express community consent, with no right of appeal for developers if a council says no.

“I am strongly of the view that we should seize the moment – not least because a future Labour government wouldn’t include equivalent community consent protection were they to scrap the current ban, as they undoubtedly would.”

Mr Johnson signed the pro-onshore wind amendment, even though he supported the ban, which has been in place since 2015, during his three years in office.

Ms Truss said she wanted to end the ban when she was in Number 10, because she believes the energy crisis means Britain needs more energy independence.