Johnson and Truss join Tory rebellion over onshore wind farms

Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Britain’s last two prime ministers, have both backed Tory rebellions aimed at ending a de facto ban on new onshore wind farms – creating a fresh headache for the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

Simon Clarke, head of equalization under Truss’s short-lived presidency this autumn, has written an amendment to the government’s “equalization and regeneration bill” which would end the current block on onshore wind turbines.

Clarke argues that wind energy is not only one of the cheapest forms of energy, but would also improve Britain’s energy resilience in a global energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He launched his amendment barely 24 hours after Sunak was forced to delay a critical vote on planning reforms amid a growing rebellion by more than 50 of his MPs who are wary of green development.

The new involvement of both Johnson and Truss in the wind energy rebellion suggests Sunak’s predecessors are unlikely to give him an easy ride as prime minister. Sunak played a major role in ousting Johnson from power in the early summer when he was one of the first in a line of ministers to resign in protest at various scandals that hit the then prime minister.

The inclusion 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 MPs who opposed them.

After moving into Number 10, Johnson partly pioneered onshore wind by introducing technology into the government’s low-carbon electricity subsidy scheme, known as “contracts for difference” auctions.

Even then, however, Johnson did not reconsider Cameron’s tightening of the planning system, which made it virtually impossible to build a wind farm in England anywhere there was a single objector.

Truss, as Prime Minister, announced she was removing these burdensome planning restrictions in September in a bid to stimulate the rapid expansion of onshore wind farms. The government is keen to increase 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 ambitions for a big increase in renewable generation.

Clarke’s amendment would force Michael Gove, who succeeded him as minister in Sunak’s government, to allow applications for onshore wind farms by revising government guidance known as the National Planning Policy Framework.

In an attempt to reassure other members of parliament, Clarke’s amendment would ensure that the projects could only go ahead where they had councilors’ support by preventing developers from appealing to the National Planning Authority when their plans were rejected.

Labor is expected to back the Clarke amendment but also table its own, stronger version.

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