Dissatisfaction is simmering throughout the nation, with pushback particularly intense in regions recognized as the “green belt,” expanses of rural land set aside to prevent urban expansion. The Labour party is fully cognizant that their proposal to streamline the construction of data centers may lead to clashes between developers and local residents, as stated by two individuals privy to internal party deliberations. In Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Dublin, locals have clashed with data center developers, citing concerns over the facilities’ voracious consumption of power and water. In response, all three cities have now imposed limitations on new developments.

“The fundamental inquiry for national leaders, rather than ordinary citizens like us, is this: What does the nation prioritize the most?” questions Jane Griffin, representative for the Colne Valley Regional Park, an expanse of farmland, woodlands, and lakes on the periphery of London that has seen six proposals for new data centers. “Vast expanses of nature with lush foliage and serene lakes? Or should we favor an immense, colossal data center?”

The British data center industry is shrouded in secrecy—there exists no official registry detailing the total count within the UK. Numerous corporations argue that disclosing the locations of their server facilities could expose them to potential security threats that might endanger critical sectors. Tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, and Meta all declined WIRED’s request for insights on the quantity of data centers they utilize or manage within the country. Additionally, there are numerous lesser-known firms operating these data centers clandestinely. “Everyone simply desires discretion to conduct their operations smoothly,” remarks Spencer Lamb, the chief operations officer of Kao Data, which claims to manage four data centers in the UK, either operational or under construction.

Estimations regarding the number of data centers vary from around 300 to over 500, predominantly clustered around London. It is widely acknowledged that the sector’s power consumption is poised to skyrocket owing to the surge in demand fueled by AI technology. Presently, data centers are estimated to contribute to 1.4% of the country’s total electricity consumption, according to the National Grid. Forecasts indicate that power requirements are anticipated to surge by 500% over the forthcoming decade.

The strategic positioning of these new data centers will be crucial, Lamb asserts. He aspires that the Labour party’s approach can avoid a situation resembling what transpired in Amsterdam, where objections arose due to data centers becoming concentrated in a localized area. “If these facilities were evenly distributed across the country, it would alleviate the distress and anguish for residents in specific regions,” he suggests. “I recollect when each town and city accommodated an industrial zone within its confines. It seems logical now that we should situate these AI hubs [data centers] in similar setups.”

Nonetheless, under a Conservative administration, developers have eagerly flocked to regions with available power, frequently encountering opposition from the local community upon arrival. “Presently, acquiring both land and planning consent for electricity supply to construct data centers is a challenging endeavor,” elaborates Bruce Owen, the managing director for Equinix UK, a global data center provider. “The process is notably protracted and cumbersome.”