Onshore Wind Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:23 pm on 19 November 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 12:23, 19 November 2021

I was puzzled because planning is a devolved function in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, those are small points. The big point about this Bill is Clause 1(1), of course, which calls for a review. The present system—or, rather, the lack of any system—for planning applications in England has created a paralysis that, if prolonged, will inevitably mean the country missing the target of net zero by 2035. My company’s onshore wind programme pipeline is heavily weighted to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because, since 2015, the Government have washed their hands of the approval process in England, leaving it entirely to local opinion. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, a single local objection sinks a proposal or delays it sine die. Open-ended consenting timelines that are five to 10 years long and often end without consent obviously deter investment. Between 2011 and 2015, 435 turbines were erected on 108 sites. However, as the noble Baroness said, between 2016 and 2020, applications went down by 96%. Only 16 turbines were permitted in those five years.

This really matters. The analysis I have seen suggests that, to reach net zero by 2035, the country will need a fourfold increase in offshore generation, a doubling of solar generation and a trebling of onshore wind. The Climate Change Committee says that the onshore wind capacity, now some 14 gigawatts, some of which is nearing the end of its operational life, will need to be about 35 gigawatts. This means new capacity of about 1.25 gigawatts a year. Currently, we are installing about 600 megawatts a year, very little of it in England, so we need to go twice as fast as we are now. We will not manage that unless the paralysis of planning in England comes to an end. That is why this Bill is so important and why the Government should welcome it and get behind it. I really hope they do. It is all very well the Government puffing our legally binding targets. If you will the end, you should will the means.

Of course local opinion matters, but going for 30 gigawatts by 2030 would create 30,000 full-time construction jobs and 30,000 full-time operating jobs. We can all think of communities across England, not least those where the Government want to see levelling up, where such jobs would be welcome. Currently, it does not and cannot happen in England because a single objection kills a proposal. Local unanimity is needed, so applications are not made and jobs are not created. Without a predictable future project pipeline order book, supply chains maximising UK content and cutting costs cannot be created. If all this persists, the decarbonisation targets will not and cannot be met.

Pace the Prime Minister, we really cannot have our cake and eat it. One cannot be proudly green, decisive and determinant—rhetorically—and refuse to get one’s hands dirty about delivery. One cannot be laissez faire when one is surely bound by one’s target. One cannot just leave it to one’s successors. If I were to be undiplomatic, which is unthinkable, I would say that that would be almost as hypocritical as—