Sunak’s u-turn comes just weeks after members of his ruling Conservative Party joined the Tory rebellion in demanding to lift the de facto ban on new onshore wind farms in England.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the relaxation of a ban on new onshore wind turbines in England, following mounting pressure from the opposition and members of his own party.

Just days after taking office, Sunak vowed to keep the ban in place, reversing the plan of his predecessor, Liz Truss, who had committed to dropping the longstanding clampdown on new onshore wind farms in the English countryside introduced by former PM David Cameron in 2015.

Under the government’s new plan, unveiled on Tuesday night, onshore wind farms would be allowed if they could demonstrate “local support” and appropriately address any negative repercussions identified by the local community. The government will keep ensuring “strong environmental protections”, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities added. 

Less than two weeks ago, former PMs Boris Johnson and Liz Truss joined the Tory rebellion against the ban, signing an amendment tabled by Simon Clarke and calling for a revision of the government’s National Planning Policy Framework to allow the development of new onshore wind farms.

Wind currently accounts for 17% of the UK’s energy mix and it is the country’s largest source of renewable energy, second only to nuclear among low-carbon sources. 

Calls to end the ban and scale up wind power have grown in recent months, amid efforts to reduce independence from Russian fossil fuels and fast forward the green transition. According to government data, in 2021, imports from Russia made up 4% of UK’s gas, 9% of oil and 27% of coal and were worth a combined £4.5 billion (US$5.5 billion).

The UK plans to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Speaking at COP27 last month, Sunak urged world leaders to move “further and faster” in transitioning to renewable energy, adding that he wanted to “continue the leadership that our country has shown in tackling climate change.” 

But another policy is worrying environmentalists and renewable manufacturers in the country. While in office, Truss unveiled a proposal to ban the development of new solar projects on agricultural land, arguing that solar farms would hinder food production. Despite Truss’ resignation, experts believe that Sunak is likely to move forward on this policy, given that he has previously expressed support of the ban.

Featured image: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street (Flickr)

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