Rishi Sunak hints at about-face to ban on onshore wind farms with Tory backbench statement

Rishi Sunak has fueled expectations of a government U-turn on onshore wind, saying he is ready to “engage” with Tory backbenchers who are pushing for an easing of rules blocking development.

It came after Cabinet Secretary Grant Shapps signaled a possible compromise by saying he expects more power-generating turbines to be built on land in the future.

At least 30 Conservative MPs – including former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss and former climate czar Alok Sharma – are backing a change in planning policy to pave the way for more onshore wind farms.

A vote on the leveling and regeneration bill originally expected today has been postponed over behind-the-scenes talks to stave off separate Tory rebellions over wind power and housing targets, both of which threaten Mr Sunak’s majority in the House of Commons.

No date has been set for the crunch voting, although ministers are understood to want legislation through the House of Representatives before Christmas.

Mr Shapps tried today to downplay the importance of the revolt over onshore wind, claiming it was “not a real dispute” because both sides have the same objective.

“We’re all basically saying the same thing – you need local consent if you want to have onshore wind power,” said the business secretary.

And he appeared to accept that the rebels would eventually achieve their objective, telling LBC radio: “There is shore power, there will be more shore power in the future, but it has to be done with the consent of the communities, who may benefit from some of these.” power rather than imposed.”

Mr. Sunak has already significantly toned down his opposition to onshore wind.

During the Tory leadership race in July, he vowed “never to relax England’s ban on onshore wind, but instead to focus on building more offshore turbines”.

But his official spokesman today refused to call the current situation a “ban,” insisting the law allows new wind farms as long as developers have consulted with local communities and obtained their approval.

The spokesman said: “The Prime Minister believes that on any government matter you should naturally speak to MPs, engage with them and seek the views of both sides on any issue. That is what takes place.”

Mr Sunak has previously spoken about his focus on offshore wind energy, which has supplied more than half of Britain’s electricity for some days recently, and stressed the importance of “taking communities on board” to achieve net-zero commitments -Meet carbon emissions.

“He said the worst thing we could do is alienate communities,” the spokesman said. “We want to deliver on our commitments and we have a very affordable offshore wind energy source.”

Permitting onshore wind farms with local consent seems increasingly viable as public support for the technology increases during the current energy crisis. But the issue was seen as toxic during the Tory leadership debate because of opposition from many members to installing turbines on the land.

Mr Sunak’s tough stance came in July as he tried to win over a right-wing Tory membership hostile to action to tackle the climate emergency and turning to Ms Truss.

Back in the final days of his tenure as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson had announced plans to allow local communities in England to house new turbines in exchange for cheaper electricity bills.

A government insider said today the Prime Minister is well aware that there are strong views within the Conservative Party on both sides of the dispute.

“It’s not an issue where there’s compromise,” the insider said. “It’s quite common to hear quite loudly from people who are in favor of something but don’t quite have a full sense of your opposition.”

Jake Berry, former leader of the Conservative Party and founder of the Northern Research Group of MPs, is the latest to get behind the proposed changes proposed by former Leveling Up Secretary Simon Clarke.

Mr Berry pointed out that Mr Johnson – who once described wind turbines as “white satanic mills” – had changed his mind.

“He changed his mind about her. I’ve mostly changed my mind and will support Simon Clarke,” he told the BBC On Sunday.

Mr Shapps also backtracked on his earlier criticism that wind turbines were “an eyesore” – arguing that if they were “done right” that would not be the case.

“One thing you can do, you know, is get them out of people’s eyes a lot. It’s a question of placement,” he said LBC radio.

“There is shore power, there will be more shore power in the future, but it has to be done with the consent of the communities who might benefit from some of that power, not imposed.”

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