Datacenter would spoil beautiful view ... of former industrial waste dump

Not in my backyard, says Buckinghamshire Council

Plans to build a datacenter campus on a landfill site overlooking the M25 motorway near London have been rejected on grounds it would significantly alter the character and appearance of the area, despite recognition there is significant demand for datacenter capacity in the area.

The West London Technology Park was planned for the Woodlands Park Landfill Site, near to Iver in Buckinghamshire. It was to be a datacenter campus comprising three multi-story buildings grouped around a small lake on the site, which would be around 23 m (75 ft) in height and have a total of 163,000 sqm floor space accommodating up to 147 MW of IT infrastructure.

Documents relating to the planning application argued that there was an "agreed level of need for 1,730 MW of additional data centre capacity within the SAZ (Slough Availability Zone) by 2027," and that "the need for the provision is both overwhelming and urgent," plus there was an absence of alternative sites to meet this need.

Nevertheless, the development site is designated Green Belt land, and the application was rejected by Buckinghamshire Council last year. The developer, Greystoke Land, then filed an appeal against the decision, and following an inquiry, the Planning Inspector passed the decision up to Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities with the recommendation that the appeal be dismissed.

The Under Secretary of State for Local Government and Building Safety, Lee Rowley MP, agreed with the Inspector's conclusions and confirmed the refusal of planning permission at the end of October. The document can be found here [PDF].

Among the main reasons given for refusal are that it would "significantly alter the character and appearance of the area" from that of "open land with characteristics of a rural/countryside location" to that of an area dominated by three large buildings surrounded by ancillary structures, including fencing, gates, lighting columns plus vehicle parking.

The size and bulk of the buildings was also noted as these would be "significantly higher than those on the nearby West London Industrial Park," and that with the introduction of external lighting, fencing, and access roads, the site would be perceived as being occupied 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in contrast with its current "unused and open character."

In case anyone has a picture of an unspoiled rural idyll, the site was previously used for the extraction of sand and gravel, followed by infilling with industrial waste. A further permission was granted in 1987 for the disposal of controlled waste, but the site has since been restored to grassland.

The inquiry by the council considered the potential environmental impact on the area, but generally found this would not be an issue, noting that no badger setts were found on site and while ground nesting birds are present on the site it is likely that these would move to other areas in the locality.

Instead, objections largely focused on the size of the buildings in the landscape, and their effect on views in the area. It was claimed that the development would have "a significant impact on openness, both visually and spatially," that "the buildings would be visible from the over bridges across the M25," and that although there were trees and other cover, "the form of the buildings and their bulk would be a prominent and incongruous feature standing above this vegetation."

Anthony Crean, a director at the developer Greystoke Land, criticized the decision, telling listeners of BBC Radio 4 that the site was a "former asbestos dump between the M25 and an industrial site," and complaining that mention of the Green Belt, an area around London where development is discouraged in an attempt to slow urban sprawl, was enough to get a project cancelled.

Another datacenter developer, Kao Data, told us that there can be issues with planning permission for such projects.

"One important issue is that unlike other European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, the UK has no common, or consistent framework among local authorities which details specific processes or planning for datacenters," said chief commercial officer Spencer Lamb.

This means that the process for planning applications can differ widely from county to county, which can result in delayed applications or refusal.

Datacenters, and the digital infrastructure to support them, are also not included in the government's National Planning Policy Framework, the company said.

Another issue is that compared to France and Germany, the UK market has only one clearly defined major datacenter region, centered on London, and access to land and power have both become constrained over the last few years.

"In some areas of the city, the industry's power requirements have even begun to compete with residential housing developments," Lamb said.

However, Omdia research director for cloud and datacenter Vlad Galabov said he did not believe there was a distinct problem in London.

"I think planning permission is always a challenge for any building project," he told us. "I keep hearing of constraints in providing sufficient power to datacenters. This is impacting build plans in the US and in Europe." ®

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