The Secretary of State agreed with the Inspector that the datacentre’s size and bulk would significantly alter the character and appearance of the area and that harm should be afforded significant weight. The development would also significantly harm the openness of the Green Belt, both spatially and visually, and lead to the unrestricted sprawl of a large built-up area and conflict with other Green Belt purposes. The harm to the Green Belt carried substantial weight.
The Secretary of State considered the need case for a datacentre and concluded, in line with the Inspector, that there is a significant and substantial demand for new datacentres in the SAZ, and the scheme would make a significant contribution to this need and the UK economy. He accepted that there is no alternative site within the SAZ currently available. However, he also took into account that there are other AZs in London which are not in the Green Belt and that no analysis of other AZs had been undertaken. He therefore gave moderate weight to the absence of an identified and readily available alternative site for a hyperscale datacentre in the SAZ. Overall, he considered that the other considerations did not clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and to the character and appearance of the area.
This was a case of a head-on duel between two competing considerations: the urgent national need for datacentres (and the economic benefits that this, as the UK’s largest hyperscale datacentre, would bring in addressing that need) versus the protection of an important part of the Green Belt and its character and appearance. Ultimately, the Green Belt won. It was relevant that this was an important part of the Green Belt lying just beyond the original 1950s boundary. As the Inspector noted, the appeal proposal would, should it be allowed, give the impression that long standing Green Belt land can be developed. That would conflict with the essential characteristic of permanence.
Annabel Graham Paul successfully acted for Buckinghamshire Council at the planning inquiry and also in defending a costs application made by the developer.