Deputy PM reopens refused bids for major datacentres in home counties

New levelling up secretary Angela Rayner – with the support of chancellor Rachel Reeves – is reportedly to reconsider previously unsuccessful proposals to construct new hyperscale computing facilities in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire

New deputy prime minister and levelling up secretary Angela Rayner is to consider government intervention into planning submissions for two major datacentres that have recently been refused by local authorities.

Investment company Greystoke Land has previously made proposals for hyperscale computing facilities in the villages of Abbots Langley and Iver. Both submissions – to build on green belt land – have this year been refused by, respectively, Three Rivers District Council in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire Council.

But Rayner (pictured above) is set to reopen and reassess both approval processes, according to her cabinet colleague, Rachel Reeves, the new chancellor of the exchequer. In her first speech in post – in which she announced the removal of the “the absurd ban on new onshore wind” projects – Reeves indicated that she supported the decision to reconsider plans for the south-east datacentres.

The new Treasury chief also revealed that, going forward, she and Rayner will be closely involved in overseeing local planning decisions that bring with them the potential for significant investment in the UK.

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“The deputy prime minister has said that when she intervenes in the economic planning system, the benefit of development will be a central consideration and that she will not hesitate to review an application where the potential gain for the regional and national economies warrant it,” the chancellor said. “And I welcome her decision to recover two planning appeals already, for datacentres in Buckinghamshire and in Hertfordshire. To facilitate this new approach, the deputy prime minister will also write to local mayors and the Office for Investment to ensure that any investment opportunity with important planning considerations that comes across their desks is brought to her attention and also to mine.”

The proposal previously refused in Hertfordshire put forward plans for an 84,000 square metre facility across two buildings. Greystoke Land estimated that the project would attract about £1bn in overseas investment. The company’s proposed development in Buckinghamshire outlined a 72,000 square metre datacentre and supporting offices.

Responding to the chancellor’s speech, data centre expert John Booth from industry body BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, welcomed the wider aim of a “review of planning permission for digital infrastructure, including data centres”. However, he urged the new cabinet to consider options beyond south-east England.

“We should not lose sight of the UK’s net zero ambitions and climate goals,” he said. “We would advise a strategic approach using a spatial strategy to locate datacentres outside the southeast – i.e. around London – where the tech giants are based. Allowing datacentres to be built on the green belt will not be sufficient; significant investment in the grid and distribution networks will also be required.”

Booth added: “Whilst placing datacentres near cities makes sense given the amount of time it takes for data to travel from one place to another, the government should also prioritise looking further afield to areas with more space, cooler temperatures, and abundant power resources. Planning permission should include enhanced energy efficiency and sustainability requirements, including the use of recovered heat and replicating existing EU legislation regarding reporting energy and environmental data.”

Sam Trendall

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