Boris Johnson faces a Cabinet split over an attempt to tear up planning rules that prohibit new onshore wind farms as he seeks to wean Britain off expensive oil and gas.
Ministers are considering reversing a change implemented by David Cameron’s government in 2015, which effectively banned onshore wind developments in England by requiring the councils to support their construction.
The Telegraph understands that next week’s energy security strategy, ordered after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked a surge in gas prices, is likely to make it easier to secure planning permission for wind farms in a move that will prompt a slew of new developments across British fields .
But the issue is controversial within the Conservative Party. Eight of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet ministers signed a letter to Mr Cameron in 2012, urging the Government to withdraw subsidies for the farms and ensure the planning system “properly takes into account the views of local people”.
One Cabinet minister said on Tuesday that “nothing has changed since 2012” and urged Mr Johnson to relax planning laws for “housing, nuclear power, and shale gas” instead of wind farms. A second Cabinet minister said they believed local people should have the right to object to wind farms near their homes.
The letter was signed by 101 Conservative MPs, including Steve Barclay, Priti Patel, Nadine Dorries, Nadim Zahawi, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brandon Lewis and Mark Spencer – all now in the Cabinet – and ultimately forced a Tory manifesto pledge to withdraw subsidies for onshore wind at the 2015 general election.
Mr Cameron said at the time that the public was “fed-up with so many wind farms being built that won’t be necessary” and that “enough is enough”.
Rishi Sunak, who was elected at the 2015 election, spoke in favor of controls on wind farms in a parliamentary debate the following year.
The current rules require a chosen site to be included in a council’s local or neighborhood plan before it is able to go ahead, while developers must demonstrate that concerns raised by the community are addressed and that the scheme “has their backing”.
These measures effectively give councilors and people living close to a wind farm a veto on new projects, contributing to a 98.5 per cent drop in planning applications since 2015.
The 2012 campaign against new onshore wind was coordinated by Chris Heaton-Harris, who was recently appointed Mr Johnson’s Chief Whip. He declined to comment on the policy change on Tuesday night.
A Whitehall source said on Tuesday that the 2015 changes had imposed “an effective moratorium” on onshore wind and that officials were now looking at ways for it to be eased. They added: “It is the quickest and cheapest form of energy generation.”
Other wind farm projects that received planning permission before 2015 but require government subsidies to be built could also now be given the green light, following a separate rule change in 2020. At least 135 sites have planning permission and are awaiting construction.
Relaxing planning rules is likely to be unpopular with Tory MPs, many of whom represent rural or green belt constituencies that could face new developments in the coming months.
Bob Blackman, a senior backbench Conservative MP, said: “It would be a total disaster. It’s extremely unpopular, they’re ugly, and they don’t necessarily produce enough energy.
“I do think if we start getting into energy supply, it should be fracking, not onshore wind.”