Government will relax onshore wind rules after backbench revolt

The government will now relax restrictions on building onshore wind farms in England after Conservative MPs threatened to rebel over the issue.

A rule requiring new turbines to be built on pre-designated land will be rewritten, the levelling up department said.

The announcement, which came on Tuesday evening, said that any new wind farms will need still be subject to local approval.

“Decisions on onshore wind sites will continue to be made at a local level as these are best made by local representatives who know their areas beset and are democratically accountable to the local community”, the government said.

The government will now begin a wider consultation on how it will measure local opinion, which is set to begin next month and conclude next April.

Under existing rules, an onshore wind farm can be blocked if there is a single local objection to the scheme.

This is the second concession, or U-turn, in a week from the government which watered down its approach to central housing targets on Monday. This also came as a result of a threatened Conservative rebellion over the issue. 

Both rebellions had prompted the government to delay the progress of its flagship levelling up and regeneration bill through parliament.

Former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke, who led the rebellion on wind farms, said the concessions offered by the government were a “really sensible package”.

He added: “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 to rule it out,” he said. “Onshore wind is the cheapest form of energy bar none”.

Clarke’s amendment to the levelling up and regeneration bill had been signed by 34 Tory MPs — including former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, as well as COP27 President Alok Sharma.

Sir John Hayes, a former energy minister and prominent opponent of wind farms, said he welcomed the compromise. “It leaves local authorities in power to reject wind turbines. For those people who want them, their local authorities can go ahead, and those who don’t want them will be entirely entitled to stop them.”

Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said ministers had been “forced into this position because they’re too weak to stand up to another backbench rebellion”.

Regarding whether Labour would support the new position, she added that her party would “need to see the detail”. However, she warned against a possible “fudge that leaves in place a very restrictive system for onshore wind”.