By Sachin Ravikumar and Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government said on Tuesday it would speed up the approval process for English onshore wind projects that are backed by local people, easing what has been seen as an effective ban.
The government said the changes, called for by some lawmakers and which come into effect immediately, involved streamlining planning rules and included broadening the ways that suitable locations can be identified and accelerating the process of allocating sites.
"To increase our energy security and develop a cleaner, greener economy, we are introducing new measures to allow local communities to back onshore wind power projects," Michael Gove, minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said.
Communities that back local wind farms could also benefit from cheaper energy under proposals to incentivise more projects, the government added.
The changes come after the government last year said it would look at easing the rules to head off a rebellion by some Conservative lawmakers.
The announcement may help to counter criticism from opponents who say Sunak's party has sought to make political gain ahead of an election expected next year by opposing environmental policies like London's low emissions zone.
Sunak has rejected any criticism of his party's record on climate but the opposition Labour Party has sought to make the issue a dividing line ahead of the election, promising large scale investment in green projects.
Although not formally banned, new onshore wind farms have been effectively ruled out since 2015 by planning rules which could allow a single complaint to block a project.
Onshore wind has been unpopular with some in the Conservative Party, which has been in power since 2010, because many of its lawmakers' rural constituents disliked turbines being built in their area.
Other Conservative lawmakers support more onshore wind and had planned to challenge the government, but backed down when the government acted to make it harder for individual objectors to block projects.
"As a result of today's policy change it will now be important that local decision makers are able to take a more balanced approach, considering the views of communities as a whole," he said.
Lawmakers who had planned to challenge the government welcomed Tuesday's announcement.
"A great result that sees the effective ban on onshore wind lifted, allowing more clean energy to be generated where local communities support it," said Conservative lawmaker Kevin Foster.
(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and William James, writing by Muvija M and Alistair Smout, Editing by Kylie MacLellan, Alexandra Hudson)