Rishi Sunak has bowed to pressure from Tory backbenchers to allow new onshore wind farms by committing to consult on how local communities can consent to fresh projects.
Under the proposals, planning permission would be dependent on demonstrating local support and “appropriately” addressing any impacts identified by the community, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said.
The Government has pledged to ensure “strong environmental protections” remain in place.
Ministers will also seek views on developing partnerships with “supportive” communities, so those who wish to host new developments can see some benefit – such as through lower energy bills.
The move amounts to a U-turn on the PM’s opposition to building new turbines onshore, set out in his failed first bid for the Conservative leadership.
It is the second climbdown in the face of a mass revolt by Tory MPs so far this week, with the Government having already watered down local housebuilding targets to avoid the first major Commons rebellion of Mr Sunak’s premiership.
It follows a Tory backbench rebellion against the existing de-facto ban on new projects, joined by former prime ministers Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.
Both ex-premiers signed an amendment to the Government’s Levelling Up Bill tabled by Simon Clarke, who served as a minister in each of their administrations, to allow the development of onshore wind.
Ms Truss moved to relax planning rules during her short tenure at No 10, but Mr Johnson did not seek to overturn the ban, which has been in place since 2015, when he was in office.
His energy security strategy did, however, raise the prospect of lowering energy bills or providing other benefits for a “limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure” – which is echoed in the Government’s proposals.
Mr Clarke said he was “really pleased” to see a “sensible agreement” reached on the issue.
Calls to end the ban on new onshore wind farms have grown amid efforts to secure the UK’s energy independence as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has squeezed supplies.
Sir Keir Starmer has vowed that a Labour government would scrap the planning ban as part of its plan to make the UK a clean energy superpower.
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy accused Mr Sunak and her ministerial counterpart Michael Gove of being “too weak” to stand up to the backbench rebellion, claiming they are “in office but not in power”.
She suggested the move was a “fudge” which leaves in place a “very restrictive system” on onshore wind.
Mike Childs, from Friends of the Earth, said the effective moratorium on new developments “should have been lifted years ago”.
Dan McGrail, from RenewableUK, said lifting the de-facto ban would help generate more cheap power to help hard-pressed billpayers.
“We look forward to working with Government and communities on the detail of a new approach,” he said.
Octopus Energy also backed the removal of “red tape” on onshore wind as a means to cut the UK’s dependency on fossil fuels.
In a statement, the DLUHC said: “The Government commits to launching a technical consultation to explore how local authorities demonstrate local support and respond to views of their communities when considering onshore wind development in England.
“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 best and are democratically accountable to the local community.
“To deliver a more localist approach, and its commitments in the British Energy Security Strategy, the Government will consult on proposed changes to national planning policy. This follows positive engagement with MPs.
“Under the proposals, planning permission would be dependent on a project being able to demonstrate local support and appropriately address any impacts identified by the local community.
“Local authorities would also have to demonstrate their support for certain areas as being suitable for onshore wind, moving away from rigid requirements for sites to be designated in local plans.”
The technical consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework will be launched by Christmas and concluded by the end of April 2023.