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Data centre near WWII radar mast set to be approved in Kent

Written by Wed 15 Nov 2023

Plans to build a data centre on the site of a grade II former RAF mast in Dunkirk, Kent are expected to be approved.

On November 9, the Swale Borough Council planning committee recommended delegating planning permission authority to the Head of Planning. Permission is dependent on meeting safeguarding conditions.

Origin Power Services and Woodlands Investment Management are seeking approval to remove several containers and a brick toilet building. They aim to develop a two-story data centre on a 2,785sqm plot on Courtenay Road. An electrical store and ancillary office space are also planned for the site. 

The site has been called ‘unusual’ by Origin and Woodlands Investment due to its proximity to high-capacity cables under the A2 and M2 corridor which has fibre optic cable linking the site to Central London. 

“This offers very good potential for high speed and secure data storage and means the site is well located to provide a secure data storage facility with more than one means of data transfer,” said the Planning Statement.

Planning applications for the site faced rejections in 2013 and 2015. One application was dismissed due to its impact on living conditions, and another for failing to preserve the listed mast’s setting.

A 2018 application by Origin was approved after the company addressed concerns about noise, ecology, heritage, and archaeology. However, the granted planning permission expired which led Origin to essentially submit a resubmission of the previously approved proposal.

Kent Data Centre Site Rich in Military History

The Planning Statement said the data centre’s design will draw inspiration from the site’s military history, incorporating grey aluminium elements finished in green. Information boards detailing the site’s history will be erected, if approved. 

The proposed site sits between the northbound former RAF radar mast and residential dwellings in the south and east. The mast currently hosts various telecommunication equipment. 

To the northwest of the mast is a larger area of land that once formed the RAF Dunkirk Chain Home Radar Station. It features a range of buildings and groundworks and the remains of other former masts, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

The proposed data storage building and associated works would lie within the boundary of the Radar station that was established in 1936 as one of the first five operational stations of the Estuary Chain Home layout, providing early warning of high-flying enemy aircraft approaching London.

UK public body Historic England described the site as a place of great strategic and tactical importance during the Second World War, and its remains are now a rare and unusually complete example of their kind.

Historic England said parts of the site have been recognised as a scheduled monument due to its historical significance. Although the mast itself is not scheduled, its importance has been acknowledged through listing. The mast, the Chain Home radar station, three mast bases, and receiver blocks, collectively form a heritage group. 

Historic England supported the data centre application on heritage grounds. It said the proposal does not pose harm to the heritage significance of the nearby listed mast or scheduled World War II Chain Home radar station. 

“The development has been carefully positioned to avoid any encroachment into key views of the listed tower or the associated transmitter group. Supportive of the additional proposal to provide information boards to inform the public of the heritage significance of the site,” said Historic England.

Residents and Council Expressed Concern for Kent Data Centre

The proposal faced opposition from the Dunkirk Parish Council and local residents. Dunkirk Parish Council unanimously objected to the planning application over concerns around the uncertainty regarding noise levels, which they considered unacceptable. 

“The generators in the smaller plot next to the fence already can be heard when the front windows are open. This occurs when it is warmer and I have complained about the constant droning,” said Sally Willis, a local resident.

The noise report determined the proposed data centre is technically feasible from a noise control perspective. Dunkirk Parish Council recommends additional investigations into potential noise impact, reflecting ongoing community concerns about the proposed data centre.

“Dunkirk has intermittent power cuts, so when the diesel generator is used at these times, nearby residents will be subject to greater noise pollution, as well as air pollution from the generator exhaust,” said Angela Penrose, a local resident.

Other complaints involved the building not fitting into the rural setting, light pollution, and the noise of the cooling fans. 

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Written by Wed 15 Nov 2023

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