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Labour Party to allow data centres on London Green Belt

Written by Thu 13 Jun 2024

The Labour Party plans to allow the construction of data centres in the Green Belt surrounding London should they prevail in the upcoming election.

Current regulations prohibit building data centres on the Green Belt, instead designating nearby brownfield sites as the appropriate location for these facilities.

According to a new Telegraph report, the bold new plan by Labour is to change the classification of data centres, marking them as ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’.

The justification for this change is to meet growing demand for artificial intelligence (AI) data centres, particularly in commercially-dense urban areas, like London. Using this special classification will open up areas of the Green Belt as sites for data centres.

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects like airports, power plants, and roadworks are managed by the Planning Inspectorate, bypassing local authorities. Putting data centres under this classification will provide a path for data centres to circumvent local council objections to their construction on the Green Belt.

Better Chances for Data Centre Approval

Green Belt data centres projects have been blocked by local councils before. Earlier this year, the local council in Three Rivers rejected plans for a £1 billion ($1.2 billion) data centre from Greystoke.

The council’s reasons for rejecting the data centre plan included potential harm to the area’s character, appearance, and natural environment as well as the site’s location within the Green Belt without meeting special circumstances.

However, if data centres can be reclassified as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, their approvals will be decided by ministers rather than local councils, so a project like the Greystoke facility will have a better chance at approval.

While the easing of planning restrictions is likely to boost data centre construction, it also raises environmental concerns. Data centres are resource-intensive, consuming significant amounts of electricity and water.

Resources and the Environment Remain Concerns

The International Energy Agency has noted that hyperscale data centres have substantially increased global energy demand. To address this, data centre operators in the UK are investing in renewable energy sources, energy-efficient equipment, and advanced cooling technologies to reduce their carbon footprint.

However, resource consumption is not the only reason for opposition to data centre construction projects. The impact of data centres, especially the enormous hyperscale facilities that are growing in popularity, on the character and natural beauty of green spaces is a major concern for residents whose interests are represented by local councils.

Peter Kyle, the Shadow Secretary for Science, Innovation, and Technology, is instrumental in the plan to reclassify data centres to bypass Green Belt opposition. Kyle recently held a series of meetings with large data centre organisations, including Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle.

The difficulties in securing permissions from planning and zoning are believed to have been a key topic of conversation in these meetings.

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Written by Thu 13 Jun 2024

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