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Onshore Wind Farms

Volume 552: debated on Thursday 1 November 2012

Our policy remains the same: to support onshore wind farms. Onshore wind is good for our energy security, emissions reductions, economic growth and jobs, and it reduces pressures on consumer bills. The new wind projects to deliver the ambition of 13GW by 2020 are largely on the table. The Government are clear that those must be properly sited and must provide genuine benefits to local communities.

I am disappointed that the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), did not respond to my question; I have welcomed his comments in the press in recent days. Does my right hon. Friend believe that it is fair that my constituents in Helmdon, Sulgrave and Greatworth have spent two years and thousands of pounds of their own money fighting a wind farm in their area, with support from South Northamptonshire council, only to have the decision overturned on appeal? The inspector said that all their objections were very valid and upheld them, but added that national policy overruled local wishes. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to improve that unfair situation?

I am sorry if I have disappointed my hon. Friend by my presence at the Dispatch Box. She will know that Ministers do not comment on particular planning applications, but I have made it absolutely clear, working with the Department for Communities and Local Government, that the planning system needs to be more responsive to local communities. I personally launched the consultation on trying to get greater community benefits for communities who host renewable sites. I hope that she will, with her experience, contribute to that consultation process, which is very important in ensuring that communities who host these sites can gain a real benefit.

I understand the temptations, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to face the House in answering questions, not to look backwards at the hon. Member who happens to be asking the question?

The last time we met at Energy and Climate Change orals, I asked the Secretary of State why he was failing to stand up to his Conservative colleagues who want to kill off the British wind industry. He said:

“I have to disappoint the right hon. Lady, because my Conservative colleagues and I are working very closely on this matter.”—[Official Report, 12 July 2012; Vol. 548, c. 433.]

By that, of course, he meant the former energy Minister. After yesterday’s outburst by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), how closely would he say they are working together now?

My hon. Friend the energy Minister suggests that I use the word “intimately”, but I can say that we are working very closely. My hon. Friend and I—as you, Mr Speaker, requested I will face the House—may occasionally disagree on issues of substance, and I certainly did not agree with his remarks the other day, but I have to say that I really admire his style.

The Secretary of State said to the media yesterday that there has been no change to Government policy, but as we have already heard during questions, investors themselves are saying that this latest shambles is very damaging and is putting investment in new jobs and new industries at risk. The energy Minister says that wind farms are imposed on local communities, but nearly half of all planning applications get turned down. He says that wind farms affect house prices, but there is no evidence in the UK showing that that is so. He says that wind farms are too noisy, but the existing planning guidance already sets noise limits. How does the Secretary of State feel about being tricked into agreeing a review that is nothing more than a hatchet job on the British wind industry?

What the right hon. Lady did not say is that in the renewables banding review that we announced in July, which was warmly welcomed across the industry, we set the support levels until 2017 and sent a very strong signal to investors in the sector. She also did not tell the House what the Prime Minister said yesterday in supporting my position that the renewables policy has not changed. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are at one on this. We will continue with our renewables policy; it has not been changed.

Is the Secretary of State aware that oil and gas-rich countries such as Norway, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan recognise that an integral part of their energy security is the development of their own renewable resources, including onshore wind? If it is right for them, it must be right for us as well. He has given us clarity on long-term nuclear policy, developed on both sides of the House over a number of years. Will he now continue his work to deliver exactly the same clarity for investors in other low-carbon technologies such as renewables, because vital long-term investment decisions are being made now and people need that clarity?

If I may, Mr Speaker, I should like to pay tribute to the great work that my hon. Friend did at the Department in a whole range of sectors and thank him for the support he gave me. He is absolutely right that countries around the world, even those that are richer in oil and gas supplies than ours, are investing in renewable energy, and I think we should continue with that. We should make it clear that this is one of the best places in the world to invest in renewable energy.