Rishi Sunak could back down on his position to ban new onshore wind farms amid a growing Tory rebellion, a cabinet minister has suggested.
Business Secretary Grant Shapps denied the challenge constitutes a “row” or that there is a “massive gulf” between the rebels’ position and that of the government.
The amendment would allow wind farms in rural areas where there is community consent.
Mr Shapps suggested this is also the prime minister’s policy, even though Mr Sunak vowed to maintain the moratorium on new onshore wind during his unsuccessful Tory leadership bid in the summer.
Speaking during the leadership campaign, Mr Sunak said: “Wind energy will be an important part of our strategy, but I want to reassure communities that as prime minister I would scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind in England, instead focusing on building more turbines offshore.”
However, Mr Shapps told Sky News: “I’ve always said and indeed [Mr Sunak] has always said – where onshore wind happens, it needs to happen with local consent.
“What is being proposed is something which would guarantee that local consent.”
Mr Shapps admitted he hasn’t “studied all the ramifications of that in terms of the planning changes”.
But he added: “To present it as some sort of massive gulf is completely untrue.”
The business secretary’s remarks signal a possible climbdown to avoid a damaging defeat by Tory rebels, made more likely by Labour’s backing for the amendment.
Labour said it is planning to back the amendment to pile the pressure on Mr Sunak, even though the party believes it “swaps the ban for what is still a highly restrictive planning regime on onshore wind”.
Sunak facing cabinet split
Former Conservative Party chairman Sir Jake Berry and Alok Sharma, who was president of the COP26 climate summit, are some of the latest senior Tory MPs to add their names to the legislation.
Mr Sunak is also facing a split in opinion from within his own Cabinet, with Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove understood to be backing an end to the moratorium.
Downing Street said it would not predict “what might happen in the future” on onshore wind.
The PM’s official spokesman told reporters: “You’ll know there are quite detailed rules around onshore wind and what is allowed – it requires developers to consult with communities in advance (of making) a planning application.
“So I’m not going to predict what might happen in the future.”
He said the government considers amendments to bills “as they’re put forward” and that Mr Sunak “has talked at great length about his views on where the focus should be on renewables”.
Mr Johnson did not seek to overturn the ban on new onshore wind projects, in place since 2015, during his time in Number 10, though Ms Truss said she would relax the rules during her brief administration.
Calls for ending the ban have grown amid efforts to secure the UK’s energy independence as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has squeezed supplies.
‘Put facts before ideology’
Greenpeace called the moratorium “one of the most absurd and damaging policies ever introduced by a UK government” as they urged Mr Sunak to “put facts before ideology…do the right thing and bin the ban”.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also said renewables like onshore wind are nine times cheaper than gas and it was “about time he (Mr Sunak) realised it”.
She suggested the PM was headed for “yet another screeching U-turn” after reversing his decision not to attend COP27 and said he has failed “time after time to show the climate leadership our country needs”.
Mr Sunak is not only facing a challenge over onshore wind, but on building targets as well.
He was forced to pull a vote on the legislation that would set a target of building 300,000 homes per year when around 50 Tory MPs threatened to rebel.
Meanwhile, more than 50 Tory MPs have signed a letter to the PM outlining the legislation they want to see to deal with the number of small boats crossing the Channel.