Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of floundering on his promise to lift the 2015 ban on new onshore windfarm developments in England, campaigners have claimed. During his leadership campaign just a few months ago, Mr Sunak opposed the easing of planning restrictions on onshore windfarms, pledging instead to focus on new offshore developments to address climate change and the energy crisis.
But back in December, the Prime Minister caved to his party’s lawmakers who called for onshore windfarms to be permitted with local support.
Mr Sunak then vowed to ease restrictions following the mounting pressure in the midst of an energy crisis and push to lower carbon emissions.
However, a large group of campaigners, business leaders and prominent figures have warned that he could be quietly planning to go back on this promise.
The group has written to ministers to urge the Government to stick to its pledge. It is being led by the chef and environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “Poll after poll makes it clear there is an overwhelming public majority in favour of onshore wind, and communities are standing by with great wind-power projects that they know will help the environment and bring down their energy bills.
“Yet the government apparently just doesn’t get it. They are not only totally out of sync with the people on onshore wind, they are floundering on their own commitment to net zero.”
The 116 signatories also include business leaders Deborah Meaden and Mary Portas, as well as broadcasters Chris Packham and Liz Bonnin. Civil society organisations such as the RSPB and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes have also signed the letter.
It reads: “Let’s end a policy that hampers both climate progress and energy security and open up the possibility of wind power across England.”
The current ban involves the tightening of planning restrictions within the National Planning Policy Framework. For the ban to end the ban as promised, it would require the planning regulations to be either scrapped entirely or explicitly reformed.
But the letter warns that the “proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework which are currently under consultation are entirely inadequate to bring about the required change in policy’.
While the Government does aim to boost its wind capacity as a means of expanding its homegrown supplies for greater energy independence, critics have said that the onshore windfarm ban in place since 2015 is partially responsible for Britons being hit with some of the highest energy bills in Europe over the last year.
It comes after spiralling wholesale gas prices sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine exposed Britain’s vulnerability to volatile fossil fuel markets. Even though the UK only got five percent of its gas from Russia before it invaded Ukraine (the EU got 40 percent), the integrated nature of the global market had a huge knock-on impact on household energy bills, which hit record highs.
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In fact, a report from experts at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) found that surging wholesale gas prices have cost UK energy suppliers an additional £50billion to £60billion, on top of the £10billion to £20billion spent in a normal year.
Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin, head of analysis at ECIU, said: “As the IMF has pointed out, the energy crisis hit UK households harder than those in other western European countries because, as a nation, we’re incredibly dependent on gas. The price of gas is largely set by international markets, so the only way to protect yourself is to use less.
“The onshore wind ban has been one of the barriers to this. We’re also running behind places like Sweden, Poland and Estonia on installing electric heat pumps.”
Alice Harrison, Fossil Fuels Campaign Leader at Global Witness, said: “It’s outrageous that in the midst of an economic crisis, a climate crisis and Russia’s war in Ukraine – all crises caused by our dependency on fossil fuels – that it is even being debated whether the UK should boost investment in renewable energy. It shouldn’t take political infighting for this government to be dragged to a blatantly common sense position.”
The Government has been approached for comment.
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