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Three Rivers Council to vote on controversial £1bn Greystoke Land Green Belt data centre

Written by Tue 2 Jan 2024

On 18 January, Three Rivers Council will vote on a proposed Green Belt data centre near Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, and the M25. The project is expected to attract £1 billion ($1.2 billion) in foreign investment.

Investment firm, Greystoke Land, has launched a website urging people to get in touch with their local councillors to express their support for the development. 

Greystoke Land has requested the demolition and clearance of existing buildings and hardstandings for the construction of a hyperscale data centre. 

The proposed centre will provide a 96MW of IT load. The site will house ancillary offices, internal plant and equipment, emergency backup generators, and associated fuel storage. The proposed site will be up to 84,000sqm distributed across two buildings.  

Greystoke Land said the rapid increase in data generation, driven by transformative shifts in technology usage for personal, administrative, governmental, and business purposes spurred the proposal.

The ongoing 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. 

New Site to Offer Jobs and Opportunities 

Using current UK averages for the data services sector, Greystoke Land said in the ‘Economic Needs and Benefits Report’ that the Gross Value Added from the data centre is projected to be at least £30 million ($37.9 million) to £33 million ($41.7 million) based on 2019 prices and values. 

The investment firm estimated the project could support approximately 210 on-site full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs. However, this figure may vary, ranging from 170 to 260 FTE jobs. 

The operational phase is expected to generate a limited number of jobs due to the high level of automation in hyperscale data centres. However, the average salaries for these positions are ‘considerably high’.  

The estimated gross annual wage bill for the completed development ranges from £9.7 million ($12.2 million) to £11.4 million ($14.4 million), reflecting an average annual salary of £46,000 ($58,122) to £54,000 ($68,230). Greystoke Land said these figures significantly surpass the current average wage levels in Hertfordshire. 

“We have set aside over £12 million ($15.1 million) for the education and training of local people,” said Sam Matthew, Chief Operating Officer at Greystoke Land.

Greystoke Land Defends Site Location

Greystoke Land said the choice of sites for hyperscale data centres is limited due to their interdependence and the requirement for proximity between each facility. 

“We have carried out a comprehensive search for sites and this one is the very best,” said Matthew.

Greystoke Land said in their report that the absence of the proposed hyperscale data centre would have adverse effects on the local and wider UK economy, contributing only 6% of the required capacity growth in the London area over the next five years. 

The investment firm said the shortage of suitable sites in London and surrounding areas intensifies the need for hyperscale data centres specifically in the London region.

Greystoke Land added there is a significant risk that major investments in hyperscale data centres might go to competing European centres, such as Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin, or Scandinavia. 

Despite potential objections related to its closeness to the Green Belt, the chosen site promises social and economic benefits and aligns with national policies on climate change. 

Greystoke Land’s Chief Operating Officer said the firm had spoken to the Council regarding its proposal. The Council called for comments from experts in noise, air quality, archaeology, and ecology and none of them objected to the plans.  

“The catch is that this piece of land is on the very edge of the green belt and some people do not like the idea of building on the green belt under any circumstances. But one of the special advantages for this development is that we are transforming private land into a new public accessible country park and in doing so we are actually going to make it easier for people to access green spaces,” said Matthew.

Proposal Faces Green Belt Scrutiny

The proposal faced scrutiny, as the site will sit wholly within Green Belt land. The Green Belt is 14 areas of land protected from most types of development to keep the land permanently green.

A resident of Abbots Langley strongly objected to the proposal. The anonymous resident said a disused airfield in East Anglia, an abandoned warehouse, or factory site would be a more suitable location.

“Having worked with data centres since the early 2000s, I can categorically say there is no justification for one to be built on Green Belt …  This is just a thinly veiled disguise to remove a parcel of land from the Green Belt, to be later redeveloped as much more profitable housing,” said the resident.

Another resident of Abbots Langley concurred with this opinion and called the proposal ‘socially unjust’. They stressed the existing Green Belt land acts as a buffer and helps to protect residents from the impacts of the M25 and should therefore be protected. 

“Siting the proposed data centre on the local Green Belt would take this protection away. Furthermore, the cumulative impact of the additional noise, light, air, water pollution … that would result from the data centre being built would place an unreasonable burden on these local communities,” added the resident.

Other concerns raised included the appearance of the site and the increased levels of traffic. 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. 

Green Belt Data Centre Proposal One of Many

Greystoke Land’s data centre proposal is one of many that have been criticised for its attempts to develop new sites on 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, made on behalf of Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, resulted in criticism on social media. One X (formerly Twitter) user labelled it ‘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 earmarked for green belt land near Top Meadow Golf Course in Fen Lane, Upminster.

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Written by Tue 2 Jan 2024

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