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, leveling secretary during Truss’s short-lived premiership in the autumn, has written an amendment to the government’s “leveling and regeneration calculation” 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 the UK’s energy 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 do so postpone a critical vote on the planning reform in the face of a growing rebellion from more than 50 of his own MPs who are wary of greenfield development.
The fresh involvement of both Johnson and Truss in the wind power rebellion 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, being one of the first in a line of ministers to resign in protest by various scandals engulfing the then prime minister.
The decommissioning of new onshore wind farms was originally introduced by David Cameron when he was prime minister in 2015 to appease a growing number of Tory party members who opposed them.
After moving into number 10, Johnson gave a partial green light for onshore wind by including the technology in the government’s system of subsidies for low-carbon electricity, called “contracts for difference” auctions.
Even then, however, Johnson did not go through with Cameron’s tightening of the planning system, which made it virtually impossible to build wind farms in England anywhere there was a single opponent.
Truss, as prime minister, announced she was scrapping these onerous planning restrictions in September in a bid to spur a rapid expansion of onshore wind farms. The government is keen to boost home-grown low-carbon energy sources at a time when gas prices have risen around the world.
But after replacing her in Downing Street, Sunak again blocked the technology despite his wider ambition for a big increase in renewable energy.
Clarke’s amendment would force Michael Gove, who replaced him as secretary in Sunak’s cabinet, to allow applications for onshore wind farms by revising government guidance known as the National Planning Policy Framework.
In an attempt to reassure other MPs, Clarke’s amendment would ensure projects could only go ahead where they had the backing of councils, by preventing developers from appealing to the National Planning Inspectorate when their plans were rejected.
Labor is expected to back the Clarke amendment but also table their own, more strongly worded version.