Wind farm-bashing Tories give Ed Davey a baptism of fire
Subsidies appear safe, but it's changes to planning laws that could really scupper wind farms
ED DAVEY, Chris Huhne's successor as Cabinet minister for Energy and Climate Change, is facing his first big test after more than 100 backbench Tory MPs demanded a change in planning laws that have encouraged the building of wind farms over rural Britain.
Davey had hardly got his feet under his desk when it was reported in The Sunday Telegraph that 101 Conservative MPs had signed a letter calling for cuts in the British taxpayers' £400 million subsidies for wind farms, which they believe threaten to become a blot on the landscape in mainly-Tory-held constituencies.
The letter was put together by MP for Daventry Chris Heaton-Harris, and signed by his eurosceptic chums David Davis, Chris Chope and Bernard Jenkin - among many others. But it was not meant to instigate a power struggle between Lib Dems and Tories in the Coalition Cabinet: the letter was sent five days before Huhne was forced to resign as Energy Secretary over a charge of perverting the course of justice. However, a power struggle over green policy might be exactly what we now see.
Huhne fought a hard Cabinet battle with the Treasury and George Osborne, the Chancellor, to keep wind farm subsidies. Now that he has gone, will Davey be able to defend the budget?
The answer appears to be 'yes'. Downing Street has insisted that the climate change strategy adopted by the Coalition will not be changed. The Camerons like to pose as a 'green' family and once tried to get planning permission for a windmill on their London house.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "We need a low-carbon infrastructure and onshore wind is a cost effective and valuable part of the UK's diverse energy mix."
However, an annexe to the Tory MPs' letter that was not published at the weekend spells out their real beef: they want the views of local people to have priority over national targets for increasing green power generation in planning applications for more wind farms.
The MPs say: "We are worried that the new National Planning Policy Framework, in its current form, diminishes the chances of local people defeating unwanted onshore wind farm proposals through the planning system.
"Recent planning appeals have approved wind farm developments with the inspectors citing renewable energy targets as being more important than planning considerations. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that it is impossible to defeat applications through the planning system. We would urge you to ensure that planning inspectors know that the views of local people and long established planning requirements should always be taken into account."
An annexe to the letter says the planning laws should be changed so that "when determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the presumption in favour of sustainable development". The Tory MPs believe that small-scale local schemes are better than large scale wind farms.
Planning regulations should "not require applicants for energy development to demonstrate the overall need for renewable or low-carbon energy... and also recognise that even small-scale projects provide a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emission."
Cameron's aides have confirmed that a new draft framework is currently being drawn up to rebalance the planning laws for wind farms. "We are committed to giving local communities the power to shape the spaces in which they live and are getting rid of regional targets introduced by the last government.
"The draft framework also aims to strengthen local decision making and reinforce the importance of local plans," said the spokeswoman.
So it is not subsidies that will worry Davey: they appear to be safe. It is the Prime Minister's changes to the National Planning Policy Framework that will upset him. Davey is not noted as a bruiser; more of a slightly flabby middle ranker. He will need to get in the gym, and start kick-boxing training to win this fight. ·