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Government defends onshore wind U-turn in face of backbench pressure

It was confirmed on Tuesday that the Government was committing to consult on how local communities can consent to fresh projects.

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Rishi Sunak’s government has been forced to defend its latest U-turn, after the Prime Minister bowed to pressure from Tory backbenchers to relent on the construction of new onshore wind farms.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities confirmed on Tuesday evening, the Government was committing to consult on how local communities can consent to fresh projects, in a climbdown from Mr Sunak’s previous opposition to building new turbines onshore.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay played down the U-turn on Wednesday, defending the Prime Minister as he was asked on Sky News who was really in charge of government policy.

“You can see, actually, the fact that the Prime Minister has taken a very strong stand in terms of the priority of getting inflation down,” he said.

“I think it’s important that we listen to colleagues, that is our parliamentary process. It’s important that we do these things with local consent.”

It is the second about-turn so far this week, with the Government having already watered down local housebuilding targets to avoid a major Commons rebellion.

Cabinet meeting
Health Secretary Steve Barclay defended the Prime Minister on Wednesday (James Manning/PA)

The decision is currently due to be made on or before December 8, after the deadline was pushed back several times.

While the plan is backed by some Tory MPs, it has also drawn significant criticism from environmentalists.

Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband called the onshore wind decision “a fudge” and said the prime minister was being “held hostage” by his own backbenchers.

He said that “weakness” would be the only explanation if the plan goes ahead.

“It will be a disaster and it would mean a message was heard around the world about UK climate hypocrisy.”

Jess Ralston, the head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “The ban on onshore wind has been a seven-year anomaly in UK energy policy, keeping household bills higher and the UK more dependent on foreign gas. Whether deployment speeds up will now come down to the detail of the planning rule changes.

“The next big planning call from the government will be the Cumbria coal mine. With the mine’s particular type of coal no use for the UK power or steel industries and the UK having led the global campaign to phase out coal, a lot rides on Michael Gove’s decision.”

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