Permission for £1 billion Hertfordshire data center refused over environmental concerns

A stock image of a data center server room with dark colored servers featuring blue lights
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A data center in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, has been refused planning permission over concerns that the development would harm the local environment.

Developers Greystoke Land said the hyperscale data center would have covered up to 84,000 square meters across two buildings and would have been capable of 96MW of IT load.

The proposals, which also included the construction of a 300sqm innovation, education, and training center, would have unlocked up to £1 billion in foreign direct investment, delivered hundreds of high-paid jobs, and also injected £12 million in funding for training and education schemes for the local community.

However, Three Rivers District Council has voted unanimously to reject the proposal on the grounds that it would impact green belt land in the area.

"Members of the planning committee resolved to refuse the application in accordance with officer recommendations due to its impact on the Green Belt, the character and in the absence of a S106 agreement to secure necessary financial contributions," a spokesperson said.

While building on the green belt is allowable in certain circumstances, the council concluded that these didn't apply in this case. The report also found that the development would “result in significant demonstrable harm to the character and appearance of the area and the natural environment”.

Councilors were also disappointed that Greystoke had not made any financial commitment to improving walking and cycling routes in the area.

Greystoke said it was disappointed in the decision, adding that the project would have helped unlock economic growth both for the region and the wider UK.

"We appreciate councilors and officials have a very difficult job to do, but we are disappointed by this decision. The UK needs large data centers to support economic growth and digital leadership," a spokesperson for the firm said.

"Building one here in Abbots Langley will bring hundreds of well-paid jobs to the area, £12 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."

According to Greystoke, there are only a limited number of sites in the UK that are suitable for the building of data centers. Sites such as these require high-speed fiber connections and reliable power, and need to be near to other data centers for backup.

These factors, the firm said, mean they can only be built in a limited number of places in the UK, mainly around Slough and North West London.

The government has said that there's a need to increase data center capacity in London by between 2,250MW and 3,100MW by 2027, while the Hemel Hempstead Availability Zone will need to meet a need of as much as 500MW.

According to government figures, more than a quarter of all UK businesses use services housed in data centers - 62% in the case of large companies.

Data center operators generated around £4.6 billion in revenue in 2021, while in 2022, data contributed 6.9% to GDP and three quarters of all UK service exports were reliant on data.

However, planning applications for data centers are frequently turned down. Late last year, for example, plans to build one on a former quarry next to the M25 were rejected partly because of the damage they'd cause to the view from motorway bridges.

In a report last year, TechUK warned that planning challenges have been a constant for data centers, partly because planning professionals are unfamiliar with this type of digital infrastructure development.

It urged the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to work with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to make sure that the National Planning Policy Framework addresses the need for ongoing investment in the sector.

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.