Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Britain’s last two prime ministers, have both weighed in behind a Tory rebellion designed to end the de facto ban on new onshore wind farms — creating a fresh headache for the current premier, Rishi Sunak.
Simon Clarke, levelling-up secretary under Truss’s shortlived premiership in the autumn, has written an amendment to the government’s “levelling up and regeneration bill” which would end the existing block on land-based wind turbines.
Clarke argues that wind power is not only one of the cheapest forms of energy but would also improve Britain’s power resilience during a global energy crisis prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He launched his amendment barely 24 hours after Sunak was forced to delay a critical vote on planning reform in the face of a growing rebellion by more than 50 of his own MPs who are cautious about greenfield development.
The fresh involvement of both Johnson and Truss in the wind power uprising suggests that Sunak’s predecessors are unlikely to give him an easy ride as prime minister. Sunak was hugely instrumental in ousting Johnson in the early summer when he was one of the first in a string of ministers to resign in protest at various scandals engulfing the then premier.
The clampdown on new onshore wind farms was originally introduced by David Cameron when he was prime minister in 2015 to placate a growing number of Tory party members opposed to them.
After moving into Number 10, Johnson gave a partial go-ahead to onshore wind by including technology in the government’s system of subsidies for low-carbon electricity, called “contracts for difference” auctions.
Even then, however, Johnson did not overhaul Cameron’s tightening of the planning system, which made it virtually impossible to build wind farms in England anywhere where there was even a single objector.
Truss as PM announced she was scrapping those onerous planning restrictions in September in a bid to spur a rapid expansion of onshore wind farms. The government is keen to increase homegrown low-carbon energy sources at a time when gas prices have spiked around the world.
But after replacing her in Downing Street, Sunak again blocked the technology, despite his broader ambition for a big increase in renewable generation.
Clarke’s amendment would force Michael Gove, who replaced him as levelling-up secretary in Sunak’s cabinet, to allow onshore wind farm applications by revising the government guidance known as the National Planning Policy Framework.
In an attempt to reassure other MPs, Clarke’s amendment would ensure that the projects could only go ahead where they had the backing of councils by preventing developers from appealing to the national Planning Inspectorate when their schemes were rejected.
Labour is expected to support the Clarke amendment but also table their own, more strongly worded version.