Fate of two greenfield data centre jobs in Rayner’s hands

New housing secretary Angela Rayner could revive two data centre projects on Home Counties greenbelt land that were previously rejected by local councils.

Councillors initially ruled against both projects due to their greenbelt status, but faced appeals from the developers.

The councils both received letters informing them that Rayner will use her powers to take over responsibility from the Planning Inspectorate to decide whether the two projects go ahead.

In letters to both councils, Helen Skinner, case officer at the Planning Inspectorate, said the appeal “was to have been decided by an Inspector, [but] the Secretary of State considers that she should determine it herself”.

The two schemes are the Court Lane Industrial Estate data centre planned near the Buckinghamshire town of Iver, and the Abbots Langley site planned north of Watford in Hertfordshire.

The 84,000-square-metre data centre proposed at Abbots Langley was rejected by Three Rivers District Council last June, after the authority ruled the plan “would constitute inappropriate development in the greenbelt”.

It also found the plan would harm the “character and appearance and landscape of the area […] by virtue of its siting, scale, height and massing”.

However, site developer Greystoke Ltd appealed the decision.

The proposed 65,000-square-metre Court Lane Industrial Estate data centre was rejected on the same grounds in October 2023 by Buckinghamshire Council. The developer on that scheme, Affinius Capital LLC, challenged that decision as well.

The move is part of a bid by Labour to intervene more in planning decisions around the country, in a bid to push forward economically important infrastructure projects.

In her first speech as chancellor of the exchequer, Rachel Reeves said: “[Rayner] 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 comes to her attention, and also to mine.”

Reeves also committed to a consultation on a “new growth-focused approach to the planning system”, which will begin this month.

In a separate move this morning, Rayner announced that her department, previously known as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), would revert to its previous name of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

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