Onshore wind farms: government eases 'effective ban' after pressure from MPs - what do the public think?

Before today, a single objection would be enough to effectively veto a proposed onshore wind farm project

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The government has overturned a de facto ban on onshore wind farms amid mounting pressure from a group of Tory MPs - although climate activists have slammed the amendment as mere "feeble tweaks".

A written ministerial statement on Tuesday (5 September), which came into force with immediate effect, announced planning permission for onshore wind farms would be relaxed, giving residents a greater say in how onshore wind projects in their local area should be considered.

The new measures included broadening the ways that suitable locations can be identified - including by communities - and speeding up the process of allocating sites by giving alternatives to the local plan process. This will ensure the whole community has a say, not just a small number of objectors, the statement said, paving the way for more onshore wind projects to come online where they have community support.

Communities backing local wind farms could also benefit from cheaper energy under proposals to incentivise more projects, with the government to set out the next steps for this in autumn.

Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, said: "To increase our energy security and develop a cleaner, greener economy, we are introducing new measures to allow local communities to back onshore wind power projects.

The government is reportedly poised to overturn an effective ban on onshore wind farms (NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock)The government is reportedly poised to overturn an effective ban on onshore wind farms (NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock)
The government is reportedly poised to overturn an effective ban on onshore wind farms (NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock)

"This will only apply in areas where developments have community support, but these changes will help build on Britain’s enormous success as a global leader in offshore wind, helping us on our journey to Net Zero," he added.

Pressure from within the Tory party for the rules to be softened had been spearheaded by former COP26 president Sir Alok Sharma, who told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday morning he wanted a “much more permissive planning regime” on onshore wind.

“We want to see the lifting of the current planning restriction, which means that a single objection to an onshore wind development can block it. And of course, allied with this, we want to ensure that local communities who are willing to take onshore wind developments will receive direct community benefits," he continued.

“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," he continued. “But I hope that the Government will have listened and will be willing to move forward.”

Sharma said there should be a “direct linkage” between communities willing to take onshore wind farms and them getting a direct benefit, which could be a discount on their bills. His Energy Bill amendment was signed by more than 20 backbench Conservatives including ex-prime minister Liz Truss.

The current rules, introduced under David Cameron in 2015, require councils to draw up detailed plans showing all the areas suitable for onshore wind development before new wind farms can go ahead, and also meant that proposals could be blocked even if just a single person objects to them.

The government's announcement has already faced backlash for not going far enough. Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, said: “These feeble tweaks are just more hot air from the government that’ll result in very little wind.

“Developers will continue to face uncertainty over planning process and be beholden to quixotic decisions by local councils. Who will put their money into developing projects under those circumstances?

“Resistance to onshore wind is so ingrained into parts of the Conservative Party’s psyche that - no matter how much we need cheap, clean energy to lower bills and slash emissions, and no matter how popular renewables continue to be - they just can’t bring themselves to lift England’s onshore ban," he continued.

“If Sunak really cared about the climate, delivering energy security or lowering bills, he’d stop obsessing over oil and gas and just remove the planning constraints to get wind turbines built here. It’s really not that hard.”

Friends of the Earth planning specialist Magnus Gallie said the rule changes "fall far short of what’s needed to fully unleash the UK’s enormous potential for cheap, clean and popular onshore wind power".

“It’s ridiculous that onshore wind developments still face more planning barriers - both before and after applications are submitted - than fossil fuel energy projects... With the country in the midst of both a climate and cost-of-living crisis, ministers should be championing homegrown onshore wind, enabling us all to reap the benefits of lower energy bills and cuts to emissions.”

In a post on X - formerly known as Twitter - shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband wrote that the Conservatives have "bottled it" on onshore wind.

"It still remains easier to build an incinerator or a landfill site than onshore wind," he continued. "The planning system remains stacked against onshore wind. This will mean higher bills and energy insecurity for Britain."

On Tuesday, Labour also proposed an amendment to the Energy Bill, which the party said would go further - and could help cut energy bills by an estimated £93 billion, make British energy more secure, and "end once and for all the Tories' ban on onshore wind".

In a statement, the party said there are serious concerns across the energy industry that, although an improvement on the current situation, the Sharma amendment does not go far enough because it does not bring the planning rules for onshore wind in line with major infrastructure.

The Tory ban "destroyed the market for onshore wind projects", they said, with project approvals falling 97% since 2015. Only 10 onshore wind projects have been consented for development in England and only three are actually operating.

What do the British public think about wind farms?

According to recent surveying carried out by Oxford Brookes University and Surveying Opinion on Local Energy (SOOLE), there was majority support for wind turbines from residents across the South of England's rural beauty areas.

Nearly three-quarters of those who responded to surveys supported local wind farming in principal, and that number continued to rise the more detail on the plan that was provided.

Participants also overestimated by nearly five-fold how much opposition there was to local wind turbines in their area, with around 50% assuming their neighbours would oppose development.

On top of this, the polling found 56% would rather have wind turbines than a solar farm in the same location.