Onshore Wind Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:36 pm on 19 November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 12:36, 19 November 2021

My Lords, I join everyone else in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on introducing the Bill and her wider work for Peers for the Planet. It has been pretty clear that the Government have to think again. This is an anomaly in our planning system that needs to be addressed, because it threatens to inhibit our ability to reach net zero on the path we have already determined.

The Government need to recognise that there have been serious changes over the past decade or so in the economics of renewable energy, political attitudes and public attitudes, and they need to take them on board. By 2010, at least, we were clear that onshore wind was the cheapest and most convenient form of renewable energy. At the time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, David Cameron was in his “hug a husky” mood and the coalition Government saw a large number of turbines approved in their period of office.

Regrettably, there was a bit of a backlash. I am the first to recognise that not every site that has been suggested for wind turbines should necessarily be agreed, but the fact is that the 2015 Tory manifesto and the subsequent change in planning rules has led to a presumption against onshore wind, and that presumption needs to be changed. By 2015 David Cameron had, I assume, not only forgotten about the huskies; he also wanted to get rid of the Liberal Democrats and was prepared to adopt a rather hard-line view on onshore wind. That was a mistake, and the Government need to recognise it as such.

Of course, there have been other changes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, Boris Johnson came in with a bit of a reputation as being not very sensitive to climate change issues, but that has changed dramatically with the responsibility thrust on the Prime Minister because of COP 26 and the process that goes with it. He has declared that, effectively, he wants all our homes heated by wind energy. Onshore wind must be a very significant part of in order to meet that objective by 2030 or 2035. The renewables industry has suggested that by 2030, the aim should be 30 gigawatts. That seems about right, but only provided that there is more of a level playing field in the planning process and the whole process of auctions and contracts for difference, which were the subject of a previous Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that, regrettably, did not see the light of day.

The presumption against planning permission for onshore wind needs to change. It does not exist for any other form of infrastructure development. Ideally, I hope that today the Government will signal that they will take over the Bill. Failing that, I hope that the Prime Minister’s office will instruct the Minister today that we must signal our support for the Bill or get the Government Whips in this House to give time, so that its subsequent stages can be seen through and it can be part of our energy policy.

I think that chimes with the policy the Prime Minister has now enunciated. It chimes with what is necessary to stay on the path—or get on the path—to net zero and it chimes with public opinion. Fewer than 50% of people supported onshore wind 10 or 12 years ago, but well over 70% of people now support it, including those in rural areas. It has the additional advantage over offshore wind of having short supply lines and of being able to develop an industry and support in this country, rather than being almost totally dependent on the manufacture of parts abroad. It would help with the levelling-up agenda and our industrial strategy.

If the Prime Minister is to deliver his green agenda and the commitments that were made in Glasgow, the Government need to make this relatively straightforward adjustment in our planning process and allow it to happen. I therefore hope that the Minister can signal today that that is precisely what the Government intend to do.