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Newly proposed 96MW data centre in Hertfordshire causes ‘grave concerns’ and optimism

Written by Thu 6 Jul 2023

Plans for a new 96MW data centre campus in Hertfordshire, UK has been filed by Greystoke Land. The filing with Three Rivers District Council requests the demolition and clearance of existing buildings on the 33-hectare site near London.

The proposal includes two data centres with 48MW capacity each and spanning a total of 84,000 sqm, a building for education and training, as well as site-wide landscaping and the creation of a country park. The campus will also include ancillary accommodation, internal plant and equipment, and emergency backup generators and associated fuel storage.

A total of 24 dedicated generators will support each data centre building, while overall generator load is expected to be between 79‐82MW for each building and between 158‐163MW for the campus.

Each of these fuel storage facilities would contain two fuel tanks, enabling the removal of one from service for maintenance.

Green Belt concerns 

The Planning Statement states that the Hertfordshire data centre has attracted significant support at the national level, yet concerns have been raised, as the intended construction site is located entirely within the Metropolitan Green Belt.

A residential neighbour of the facilities objected to the planning application, said: “Rather selfish about this point from myself but the construction process … can generate excessive noise and cause disruptions to … daily life.”

An objection from a parish commenter cited ‘grave concerns’ regarding the environmental impact of the construction and questioned what measures will be taken to cool the site. The commenter expressed concerns over the use of a nearby reservoir for cooling which is said to be the ‘main water supply for Abbots Langley’.

“Also, what is the effect on the power supply going to be, especially to the newly built houses next door? I recommend anyone who is interested to watch the BBC Panorama programme on data centres. This provides a good insight into the impact of these facilities,” added the commenter.

The UK Government places great importance on Green Belts. The Landscape Strategy acknowledges the concerns and has proposed woodland planting, tree planting, as well as the continued maintenance and conservation of existing green infrastructure.

According to the Planning Statement, a number of positive benefits for the Green Belt that need to be factored in include public access and enhancements to the landscape and biodiversity.

Pegasus Group in their Planning Statement said: “Given the urban fringe character of this part of the Green Belt and the fact that the M25 severs the land from the wider countryside the proposals would not cause any significant harm to safeguarding the countryside from encroachment.”

The Alternative Sites Assessment explains that there is an absence of replacement sites and the Pegasus Planning Statement quotes the case for ‘very special circumstances’ as an incentive for approval.

The Land East Of Abbots Langley Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment clarifies that harm arising from the development proposals is limited and localised.

Hertfordshire data centre to meet energy efficiency policies

Construction of the new data centre is promised to result in notable reductions in energy usage and carbon compared to other outdated data centre approaches.

The Energy Statement by Ensphere Group, on behalf of Greystoke Land, encourages the adoption of the principles of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact to guarantee that electricity demand will be matched by 75% renewable energy or hourly carbon-free energy by December 2025 and 100% by December 2030.

The proposed strategy is regarded as consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework and policies with the Three Rivers District Council. The scheme will supply a low carbon and efficient development consequently allowing a transition to net zero carbon.

The need for data centres in the UK

The Economic Needs and Benefits Report by Nicol Economics highlights the Government’s recognition of the increasing role of data in the UK economy. They stress that data centres form a critical piece of digital infrastructure and have focused on increasing the potential for growth within the economy.

It is confirmed within the Planning Statement that there is an overwhelming need for data centres to grow. Globally, the amount of digital data stored every 1.2 years doubles, thus proving the need for expansion. The proposal meets some of the demand, but it is recognised that more work is needed.

The Hemel Hempstead Availability Zone is said to need to match the requirement of 500MW, which will be fulfilled by a small portion of the proposed site. The wider London demand is 2,665MW.

The construction of the Hertfordshire data centre campus is projected to cost approximately £709 million ($902 million) to complete, but is expected to be valued at £1 billion (approximately $1.2 billion).

Pegasus Group stated the construction of the data centre would support in the order of up to £300 million in GVA and 1,300 FTE extra jobs across London and the wider South East.

Taking into account supply chain and multiplier effects, the report explains that the building of the data centre would support around 5,600 person years of direct employment associated with the both on and offsite construction, and a total of 9,300 person years of employment across the UK once complete.

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Written by Thu 6 Jul 2023

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