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Three Rivers Council rejects £1bn Green Belt data centre

Written by Mon 22 Jan 2024

Three Rivers District Council’s planning committee has refused permission for a new £1 billion ($1.2 billion) Green Belt data centre near Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire.

The Watford Observer reported councillors unanimously rejected Greystoke Land’s data centre on 18 January, agreeing with the Officer Report provided to them ahead of the meeting.

Greystoke Land said the proposed data centre would have provided a 96MW of IT load over a maximum of 84,000sqm distributed across two buildings.  

The report outlined three grounds for refusal, including the site’s location within the Green Belt without meeting special circumstances. It also highlighted potential harm to the area’s character, appearance, and natural environment due to the proposed data centre. 

The Officer Report suggested the developer should be obligated to contribute financially to enhance walking and cycling routes in the area. 

Past and Present Concerns

A representative from Greystoke Land said the UK needs large data centres to support economic growth and digital leadership.

“Building one here in Abbots Langley will bring hundreds of well-paid jobs to the area, £12 million ($15.2 million) investment in education and training, and a new country park.

“Failing to build here will mean employers and investors will look to Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Paris instead,” said the representative from Greystoke Land.

Earlier this month, the investment firm said the rapid increase in data generation, driven by transformative shifts in technology usage for personal, administrative, governmental, and business purposes spurred the proposal.

Greystoke Land added the shortage of suitable sites in London and surrounding areas intensifies the need for hyperscale data centres in the London region.

The adoption of technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the ‘Internet of Things’ is further amplifying this growth to unprecedented levels.

“We understand that every 1.2 years the amount of digital data being stored globally doubles,” said Greystoke Land in the Planning Statement.

The investment firm said this gives rise to real-world land use planning issues that need to be addressed.

In July, residents of the community criticised the data centre’s appearance and the increased traffic levels. One parish commentator previously voiced ‘grave concerns’ regarding the environmental impact of the construction and questioned what measures will be taken to cool the site. 

What is the Green Belt?

The Green Belt is a designated area of countryside protected from most forms of development. The largest of those areas is London (5,085 km2), Merseyside and Greater Manchester (2,477 km2), and South and West Yorkshire (including Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford, 2,465 km2).

There are some exceptions to building on the Green Belt, including building structures for agriculture and forestry, affordable housing, outdoor recreation facilities, and educational institutions.

Proposed developments in the Green Belt undergo a thorough evaluation for their impact on the environment, landscape, and Green Belt policy objectives. The local planning authority ultimately makes the final decision.

Applicants must provide strong justifications for how their proposal meets the criteria for special circumstances outlined in local planning policies.

Green Belt Data Centre Proposal One of Many

Greystoke Land’s data centre proposal is part of a series of criticised attempts to develop new sites in the Green Belt. 

In November, a UK Government Minister, Lee Rowley, denied permission for a data centre construction in Buckinghamshire’s Green Belt to safeguard the protected area. 

Minister Lee Rowley’s decision resulted in criticism on social media, with one X (formerly Twitter) user labelling the decision ‘deranged’ due to the nation’s growing need for increased computing capacity.

In August, Havering Council said a major data centre development proposed for Upminster could have ‘significant environmental impacts’. The proposed development by Digital Reef is marked for green belt land near Top Meadow Golf Course in Fen Lane, Upminster.

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Written by Mon 22 Jan 2024

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