Microsoft is planning to operate a data centre at 706 Mowbray Road Lane Cove North.
The 1.7ha property was a multi-tenanted office warehouse building with three floors of office space, rear warehouse units and undercover and external car parking spaces. The site was previously known as Media and Technology Park.
The property was acquired for $63m from VIMG (Vic Investments Management Group) and will cost around $318 million (excluding GST) to build.
Although the data centre will be operated by Microsoft, the planning and development of the data centre is been undertaken by Arup. On their website, Arup describes their design teams as world leaders in the design and construction of hyper scale data centres.
The zoning for 706 Mowbray Road Lane Cove North is Light Industrial. The site is located between Epping Road and Mowbray Road West, Lane Cove North and adjoins an E2 conservation zone along the southern boundary
The site has a frontage on Mowbray Road, which falls within the Lane Cove Council Area. The other side of Mowbray Road is residential and falls within the Willougby City Council Area. The site is also visible from Epping Road.
It’s located near the community-run, and popular Possums Corner Child Care Centre. Parking for the centre is located at 706 Mowbray Raod Lane Cove North; this was an arrangement with the previous site owners. After the initial community consultation, Microsoft has agreed to provide parking for Possum Corner Child Care Centre. This will be the subject of another development application.
The Data Centre is located near the Lane Cove North Estate, which has 202 Apartments and a resident population of around 700. The Possums Corner Child Care Centre is a very important local facility for families in that estate.
The site is zoned Light Industrial, but as it adjoins residential zones, it’s important that the site is developed in a manner that takes into account the mixed residential/industrial uses in that part of Lane Cove North.
During the demolition and construction phase, demolition and construction vehicle movements will impact anyone who drives along Mowbray Road West to and from Epping Road.
The proposed data centre is about 500m from the large AirTrunk Data Centre in the Lane Cove West Business Park.
In January 2021, documents were lodged with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment seeking approval for the Data Centre as a state-significant development.
The NSW State Government has identified data centres as a critical IT sector infrastructure. This means development approval is assessed at the state level rather than at the local Council level. The rationale for this approach is that local issues are considered, but broader state significant issues are also taken into account when determining the project’s merit.
However local council still plays an important role as they need to advocate for residents to ensure the best possible outcomes for residents in terms of development and construction management.
As part of the state significant development process, Microsoft was required to undertake community consultation before preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
ITC was told by a Lane Cove North Estate resident that they were originally not part of the planned community consultation.
The original concept presented to the community was a data centre over six (6) levels (including a basement level), comprising 14 data halls, 16 electrical substations, one (1) diesel fuel storage tank, plant and equipment. The developers were seeking a variation to the planning instrument to permit them to construct a building that would be approximately 38 m high from the ground level (the block is sloped).
Development Consent is being sought for the construction and operational use of a Data Centre on a 24/7 basis. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has now been lodged with NSW Planning.
The building will be over four levels (the levels range in height from 20.9 m – 29.695 m). The total Gross Floor Area is 11,338 m2.
The plans include the following:
- 12 data halls;
- a 132 kV electrical substation (including three (3) levels of 22 kV transformer rooms)
- provision for 13 diesel fuel storage tanks;
- 12 emergency backup generators and additional plant and equipment (on the roof level);
- Ancillary office space (1,680 m2 );
- 42 car parking spaces (including two (2) accessible spaces).
- Associated internal access roads, hardstand and driveways.
A Development Application for the fit-out (i.e. installation of equipment and associated technology within the proposed data halls) will be undertaken as part of a separate Development Consent based on demand. A Complying Development Certificate (CDC) under State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 (Codes SEPP) will be submitted for each data hall.
Maximum Building Height Variation
The current planning instrument sets a maximum building height of approximately 18 m pursuant to LCLEP2009.
Arup is seeking a variation to the maximum building height from 18 m to heights of varied nature between 20.9– 29.695 m. Those height levels are from the ground level. It’s a sloping site, so when constructed on the higher part of the site, it will have a bigger impact as to size and bulk issues.
Size and Bulk
Local residents are concerned with the size and bulk of the development. They acknowledge as an end-use the development would not have the same impact like a new housing or commercial development. However, the proposed data centre plans are out of character with the rest of the light industrial nature of the area. The EIS notes that landscaping will screen the building’s visual impact. Locals argue that the building should be designed, so it does not need to rely on landscaping to screen it.
Demolition and Construction Phase
Locals are particularly concerned about the demolition and construction phases and the impact on pedestrian access, parking and traffic management. They have been told that these issues will be addressed if the development consent is issued.
Construction Management Plans and Traffic Management Plans are provided to the Lane Cove Council for review and approval, and residents have no input into the plans.
Where will the 150 construction employees park during construction?
Traffic management plans and construction management plans are often ignored by developers, and even when Lane Cove Council issues penalty notices, the fines do not seem to be a deterrent (see our article on the Pathways development on Northwood Road – the contractor/developer has been issued numerous fines for breach of their traffic management plan).
Recently the Lane Cove Council issued a new traffic management plan for the Excavation/ Demolition Stage of the Pathways Northwood Road development, this action was only taken after numerous complaints from commuters and locals who use River Road. The updated plan provided:
“The traffic controllers should not be holding the traffic for more than 2 minutes during the peak hours between 7:00 am to 9:30 am & 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm.
If the traffic controllers in any circumstances hold the traffic for more than 2 minutes, then the traffic controllers should not be holding/stopping any traffic for the next 10 minutes.
The traffic controllers should not be holding/stopping the traffic for more than 3 minutes during peak hours between 7:00 am to 9:30 am and 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm.”
Given the number of developments in the pipeline in jhe Lane Cove Council area, does the Lane Cove Council compliance team have the resources to monitor and enforce these requirements?
Bushland Issues and Tree Removal
As mentioned above, the property is located between Epping Road and Mowbray Road, Lane Cove North, adjoining an E2 conservation zone along the southern boundary.
An Arborist Report was commissioned by the developers and was prepared by Travers bushfire & ecology. The report concluded:
“Of the 113 trees considered in this report, based upon the development plans and proposed bulk earthworks this report has determined that:
• 65 trees are nominated for removal
• 48 trees are nominated for retention
Provided that the Tree Protection Measures are implemented and works are carried out in a sensitive manner it is considered that the proposed development will not have a that the proposed development will not have a significant impact on the long-term health of the retained trees.”
The landscaping plan notes that any removed trees will be replaced at a ratio greater than 2:!. This practice has been called into doubt by academics in the climate change area. Read this article in The Conversation about the benefit of retaining mature trees.
A Bushfire Protection Assessment Report was commissioned by the developers and was prepared by Travers bushfire & ecology.
The assessment report concluded that the proposed data centre could be impacted by bushfires due to forest vegetation to the south and west of the site. The data centre could be exposed to potential radiant heat, flame contact and ember attack. Travers bushfire & ecology proposed a number of bushfire measures. The recommendations included the following:
“Diesel storage is to be in accordance with all relevant clauses of AS1940:2017 The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids.
Diesel storage tanks are to be located within Level 1 of the building, which is partially below ground level and designed with a fail-safe system to prevent ignition and propagation from potential bushfire attacks, including the connections to the generators or other exposed parts of the system.”
Lane Cove Tunnel
The Lane Cove Tunnel is located under the property to be developed and it is noted in the EIS that the developers are working with Transurban in relation to expectations and requirements as a result of the data centre proposal.
What are the Next Steps?
NSW Planning has uploaded the EIS to its website, inviting interested parties to submit comments. To review the documents and submit your comments click on this link.
Submissions close on 1 December 2022. If you are concerned about the data centre, you should make a submission and encourage others to make a submission. For maximum impact, the submission should be in your own words; submitting a standard form letter or a petition is not considered a unique submission and does impact if the proposal is referred to an independent panel for review.
If development consent is granted, there will be the demolition stage. The Demolition Stage of any large-scale development is where many issues arise in relation to traffic management, noise, vibration, dust and sediment control. The Development Application was lodged with the Lane Cove Council, and the application was heard by the Lane Cove Local Planning Panel. You can view the Development Application on the Lane Cove Council’s Website – DA 170/2021.
It does seem like putting the cart before the horse, however, the existing structures will need to be demolished no matter what development is approved for this site.
The Development Application was approved with a deferred commencement date. The Development Consent will not operate until Lane Cove Council Council is satisfied that the following plans are acceptable.
- Demolition Traffic & Parking Management Plan
- Childcare Centre Management Plan
- Bushland Management Plan
- Demolition Noise and Vibration Management Plan
The town planner acting for the developer submitted those plans on 4 October 2022. It appears that Lane Cove Council is still reviewing those plans.
If you live, drive or use the childcare facility near 706 Mowbray Road, you should look at the plans and write to your west ward councillors if you have any questions – contact details here. The impacted Lane Cove North residents, who are part of the Willoughby City Council should also speak to their local councillors and ask them to raise it with Lane Cove Councillors.
Background – Lane Cove Council/Willoughby Council’s Response to the First Plans
As the construction of the Data Centre will impact residents in both the Lane Cove Council Area and Willoughby Council Area, both councils were invited to comment on the development. ITC thought it would be useful to set out again LCC and Willoughby City Council’s initial comments. Both councils will now have the chance to comment on the new plans.
Lane Cove Council
Lane Cove Council noted the Data Centre would be beneficial to the local economy. The proposed high-tech industry would provide employment opportunities to the Lane Cove North area. The use as a Data Centre is permitted within the IN2 zone.
Lane Cove Council further noted the maximum building height was 38m. This development would significantly breach the 18m height control for the site under the Lane Cove LEP 2009.
Lane Cove Council suggested that this non-compliance should be justified as part of a future Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). They also recommended including a comprehensive character statement as part of the future EIS. The character statement should detail the existing character of surrounding built structures, setbacks and envelopes along Mowbray Road. The character statement should provide a compelling argument and justify that the proposed development is sympathetic and in keeping with the varied and transitioning character of the area.
The site adjoins land zoned Environmental Conservation (E2). It’s not known if any vegetation is proposed to be removed as part of the development. However, the future EIS documentation should include a Biodiversity Development Assessment Report and Flora and Fauna Study.
Lane Cove Council also noted the Lane Cove Tunnel runs below the site. lt is understood that excavation is proposed to accommodate loading, water and fuel tank storage. Consultation should be undertaken with Transurban to confirm if any works are within the ‘zone of influence’ and what restrictions may apply.
The Development is located next to Possums Corner Childcare. Possums’ Corner Child Care Centre is a community-run not-for-profit child care centre, caring for children from 2 months of age up to preschool. Lane Cove Council noted that Possums Corner Child Care has a parking arrangement whereby parents can use the building’s parking area for staff parking, and parent pick up and drop off. Without access to this parking area, Possums Corner Child Care has no other close by parking options. Lane Cove Council requested consultation with Possums Corner Child Care Centre.
Willoughby City Council
Willoughby City Council noted that based on the preliminary architectural plans, it is anticipated that there would be approximately 1,800 tonnes (or 1,950 kl) of diesel fuel stored on-site. The Diesel would be used to fuel generators if there was a power cut to the site.
Because of the surrounding land uses and the fact that the site is in a bushfire prone area, Council noted its concerns regarding the intended storage of fuel and requested that alternative energy sources to diesel fuel be investigated, such as solar power and battery storage options.
The EPA requested further information on the total volume of Diesel to be held on-site and the capacity of the tanks they will be installing.
Transport for NSW
Transport for NSW called for the following to be included in the transport and traffic impact study:
- Daily and peak traffic movements likely to be generated by the development and the impact on nearby intersections and the need/associated funding for upgrading or road improvements works (if required). The key intersection to model is the Epping Road/Mowbray Road intersection;
- Assessment of all vehicular traffic routes and intersections for access to and from the property;
- Current traffic counts for all the traffic routes and intersections and the anticipated additional vehicular traffic generated at both the construction and operational stages;
- Proposed number of car park spacing and compliance with the appropriate codes;
- Details of the proposed accesses and the parking provisions associated with the development (including turning paths, sight difference etc.); and
- Other standard requirements for a traffic impact study.
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