Senior Conservative warns Sunak party will ‘pay a heavy price at the ballot box’ if it fails on climate

Rishi Sunak has been warned by a senior Conservative MP that the party will “pay a heavy price at the ballot box” at the next election if it wobbles on protecting the planet. 

Sir Alok Sharma, who served as the president for COP26, told the BBC this morning how he has been lobbying ministers to end the de facto ban on onshore wind.

He said: “We’ve been in a detailed discussion with the government. I think it’s going to be very important to see the detail of what the government puts forward in terms of its ministerial statement, in terms of what ministers say from the despatch box”.

It comes as the Sun reports that a string of up to 25 Conservative rebels are expected to not push their amendment to the upcoming energy bill. Ministers have confirmed that the government will ease planning rules on onshore wind construction in a move that could end the de facto moratorium on building turbines. 

Under the compromise, councils will have to prove they have tried to address and hear concerns from people trying to block it in future, but will change the wording of strict planning rules.

Firms will be able to expand and rebuild existing wind farms without having to get the same level of permissions.

However, some Conservative MPs are reported to be holding out for an immediate end to special rules for onshore wind.

Such an amendment to the energy bill today, that would end an onshore wind ban and see turbines treated like any other renewable project, would likely be backed by the Labour Party. 

The Times reports that these rebels believe they have the numbers on the Conservative benches to defeat the government.

The prime minister’s spokesman said yesterday that ministers were looking at “technical changes to the national planning policy framework that would help supportive communities take forward onshore wind projects”.

He added: “That includes how proposals demonstrate support for the onshore wind project locally and how they address impacts identified by the local community.”

Claire Coutinho, the new energy secretary, faces a difficult task in her first week in the job in guiding the energy bill through the commons. She is also expected to face hostile amendments from net zero sceptic Conservative MPs. 

At the end of last year, under pressure from both pro-green and pro-growth backbenchers, the government promised to review the rules on onshore wind. 

Sir Alok told the BBC: “I hope that the government will will have listened and will be willing to move forward.

“The current situation we have is that the just one objection can prevent a wind farm from being built. I mean, clearly, that is not a convenient veto.

“And frankly, I don’t think it’s a sensible way for a planning system to operate.

“Of course communities should have a say, but the idea that there should be just one objection and you can’t have a wind farm, I think that is outdated.”

And he warned the PM that any party going wobbly on protecting the planet would “pay a heavy price at the ballot box.”

The de facto ban on onshore wind has been in place since David Cameron was prime minister. 

In 2016, Cameron removed financial support for onshore wind projects entirely and placed uniquely stringent planning conditions on new wind energy developments.

One rule outlined that applications for wind turbines should only be submitted where local councils had specifically designated potential sites in their local area plans. 

Another rule ensured that even if an applicant could meet this criterion, they were mandated to consult the local community prior to the application. 

All objections had to then be resolved before a council could grant planning permission.

The ruling essentially meant that a single person could block proposals for an onshore wind farm.