UK minister recalls two planning decisions which blocked datacenter investment

Deputy leader to act after promise of more business-friendly planning process

The UK's deputy prime minister is set to recall two planning decisions which have held up datacenter investment in the UK.

A speech by incoming finance ministers outlined how the new government would unblock the planning process to try to boost the economy.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves noted that the Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner had decided to recover two planning appeals already, for datacenters in Buckinghamshire and in Hertfordshire.

“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,” Reeves said.

Under UK planning law, the Secretary of State can decide to make the final decision on a planning appeal, rather than it being made by a planning inspector. This is called "recovery" of an appeal.

John Booth, a datacenter expert from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, welcomed the news.

However, he added that the UK should not lose sight of its NetZero ambitions and climate goals. "We would advise a strategic approach using a spatial strategy to locate datacenters outside the southeast, where the tech giants are based. Allowing datacenters to be built on the green belt will not be sufficient; significant investment in the grid and distribution networks will also be required," he said.

"Whilst placing datacenters 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," he said.

In January, a Hertfordshire datacenter was refused planning permission after locals said it would harm the local environment. The site had been set to see a hyperscale datacenter cover 84,000 square meters across two buildings and draw on 96 MW power. The proposals also included the construction of a 300 sqm innovation, education, and training center, which was set to see up to £1 billion ($1.28 billion) in foreign direct investment.

In November last year, plans to build a datacenter campus on a landfill site overlooking the M25 motorway near London were 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 meters (75 feet) in height and have a total of 163,000 sqm floor space accommodating up to 147 MW of IT infrastructure.

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. ®

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