A developer claims the UK could lose out on data center business to other European countries after it saw a scheme to build a 96MW hyperscale facility on green belt land in Hertfordshire rejected by planners.

Greystoke Land had hoped to construct a two-building campus totaling 84,000 sqm (904,170 sq ft) of data center space at a site on Bedmond Road, near Abbots Langley. The facility, close to the M25 motorway, would have also featured ancillary offices, internal plant and equipment, emergency backup generators, and associated fuel storage.

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– Greystroke Land

However, councilors on the Three Rivers District Council planning committee rejected the proposals after considering a report from planning officers recommending denial.

Abbots Langley data center scheme rejected

Councilors who attended a planning meeting on January 18 unanimously voted to refuse permission, saying the scale of the campus would be “inappropriate” for the green belt.

In a report to the council, officers listed three reasons for refusing the application, one being that the site did not meet the stringent criteria required to build on the green belt.

Officers also voiced environmental concerns about the size of the project, saying it would “result in significant demonstrable harm to the character and appearance of the area and the natural environment.”

Greystoke Land was also criticized for not making a formal commitment to improving nearby walking and cycling routes.

Several residents of the area wrote to the council to oppose the plan.

A spokesperson for Greystoke Land said: “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. Building one here in Abbots Langley will bring hundreds of well-paid jobs to the area, £12m ($15.3m) 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.”

Greystoke Land hindered by ‘green belt theology’

It is thought Greystoke Land was hoping to attract one of the hyperscale cloud providers to the new center. NTT operates several data centers close by in Hemel Hempstead, and Amazon has a presence in the area in a Prologis industrial park.

A report included in the planning application noted the site’s important proximity to an "existing hyperscale entity at Hemel Hempstead" to which this site would be partnered. It also suggested the Hemel Hempstead availability zone needs 500MW of capacity.

The company has suffered similar troubles with a proposed development in nearby Buckinghamshire, which would’ve seen up to 163,000 sqm (1.75 million sq ft) of data center floorspace across three 243,600 sq ft buildings developed near the M25 at a site known as the West London Technology Park.

It would have offered 150MW of capacity, and included 171 backup diesel generators, each with 2MW capacity.

However, Buckinghamshire Council rejected the plan in September 2022, and though the company appealed the decision, Secretary of State Michael Gove dismissed this appeal last October.

Greystoke director Anthony Crean subsequently criticized this move, saying the green belt, a natural buffer that exists between urban and countryside areas, is a “theological” concept which blocks developments in areas he believes are suitable for facilities like data centers.

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