Council derails Scottish mega data centre plans

Lockerbie Data Centres' plans to build a village alongside a huge data centre development are now in disarray.

David King, the project director for Lockerbie Data Centres' Peelhouses development, has spearheaded plans for a massive project to create a £800 million, 250,000-square-metre sustainable data centre and neighbouring village, with 600 homes together with the infrastructure to help power the village from the data centre's waste heat. The planning application was submitted at the end of March 2009, but by August, King was locked in a battle with planners who did not share his vision.

How is the planning application going? 
David King: The planning application just to secure the site for development was filed on March 31. The planning department and the council had two months to consult with interested parties and come back to us with the results of the consultation. They have just done that.

The main consultation was with the strategic planning team, and basically they don't get the point at all. They don't see the whole sustainable thing as bringing business in and they don't see having housing on the site as important. They want to get rid of all that sustainable stuff and just do the data centre.

The strategic planning team in Dumfries & Galloway Council has said our proposals [do not comply with] the policies contained in the council's Structure and Local Plans and should therefore be refused.

They don't have a problem with the size of the data centre; it is the other bits and pieces that we are trying to add on that might benefit the local community that they don't want. This is a remarkable stance; the council's enterprise section are all for it, but the planners have policies and just can't seem to be able to see beyond them.

Our aspiration was to be involved in this for the next 10 to15 years, putting together all the elements that we thought would really create something special on this site. If the planners get their way and we only get the data centre, then our contribution to the wider community will be very small.

Assuming we can provide certain other information relating to environment and ecology over the next month, I am led to believe that the data centre and associated business space for 900 new jobs will be recommended for approval before the end of this year.

Why did you choose an area of Lockerbie in Scotland for the Peelhouses data centre project?
Lockerbie has the advantage of being close to the motorway and railway links, and both have good capacity data cables in them. Put that together with the climactic advantages of Scotland -- it is cooler, reducing cooling costs -- and the fact that Peelhouses is 700 feet above sea level so [it is even cooler], that is the advantage you have up there.

Lockerbie has three wind farms and a biomass plant, with another wind farm at planning stage, so if you take the electrical requirement as being around about 300 MW, we can access half of that from ecological and renewable sources.

Why are you planning such a large development? 
King: The south of Scotland has an overabundance of available land. On top of that there are the economies of scale, and we want to be able to address as many sectors of the data centre market as we can. A development that size allows us to do that.

We can look at direct sale of the land to major ISPs [Internet service providers], we could look at services sites for major commercial and financial institutions, we could build shells for them, and then further down the chain we could look at colocation either by setting up ourselves or addressing the colocation market.

Why did you decide to include a 600-house village in the plans? Data centres don't need many people? 
King: Considering the amount of land they take up, they are very lightly staffed and that, in a way, is the problem. Lockerbie Data Centres is a subsidiary body of R&D Group, a local company, which has been in Dumfries & Galloway for over 80 years. A lot of our employees come from that area, and we are always trying to contribute something back into the community.

What we have seen elsewhere, such as with Microsoft in the U.S., is [growth around where data centres are located]. When [Microsoft] sets up a major data centre, the town grows around it as other businesses are attracted into that area. We want to replicate that in a far more planned way.

Is Lockerbie Data Centres going to take responsibility for getting the excess heat out to the community? 
King: We planned to build some greenhouses on the site that can use secondhand heat to allow growers to operate all year round at low cost. The advantage of building a village along with the data centre is that you can put in all the required services at the construction point rather than having to take everything up later on. This is all part of our aspirations for the development and therefore we would plan to put it in at the beginning.

There would be sufficient capacity to take surplus heat down into the new school that they are building in Lockerbie and into domestic and business premises already existing in Lockerbie as long as people there were prepared to put up with the disruption to install the devices.

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