Google is continuing to build out its data center infrastructure in the UK by acquiring land to build a new campus in Essex.

The tech giant has bought a 52-acre site at North Weald Airfield, east of London, from Epping Forest District Council.

UPDATE: Council documents show the company paid £1.7 million per acre for the site, putting the total cost of the purchase at £88.4 million. The purchase price had previously been undisclosed.

North Weald
Google has acquired land at North Weald airfield – MattBuck/Wikimedia Commons

Google plans new Essex campus

The cost of the deal has not been revealed, but the land has been allocated for employment use and is located within the UK Innovation Corridor economic development region.

North Weald Airfield will continue to function as an operational aerodrome as part of the plans, which also include the delivery of a new combined control tower and fire station.

The Google campus forms part of a new masterplan for the site which was adopted by the council last March.

Councilor Chris Whitbread, leader of Epping Forest District Council, said: “The potential that this development brings is immense – not only in terms of advancing our digital infrastructure but also in generating high-quality, well-paid employment opportunities and bolstering our local economy.

“The sale makes the best use of the land available at North Weald Airfield, both in terms of driving forward our local economy as well as meeting the recommendations of the strategic masterplan.”

North Weald Airfield was formerly known as RAF North Weald, an air force base which housed a squadron of Hawker Hurricanes during World War Two. The planes were deployed to Dunkirk and played an important role in the Battle of Britain. Today it operates as a commercial airfield for private pilots and training companies, and is home to helicopters from the Essex & Herts Air Ambulance and the National Police Air Service.

A spokesperson for Google confirmed the company had acquired the site “for a potential data center”. They said: “While we do not have a confirmed timeline for development, we want to ensure we have the option to expand our technical infrastructure, should our business demand it.”

Tech giant ramps up UK investment

Essex is already home to significant data center infrastructure, and the new Google campus will be four miles from Kao Data’s site in Harlow.

The North Weald site is the second package of land Google has acquired in the county in recent months. In November it was revealed that the company had bought a 129-acre plot in Purfleet, which was formerly the Arena Essex Raceway, a stock car and speedway racing track.

Last week Google announced plans for a $1bn data center in nearby Hertfordshire. Construction work has already started on the 33-acre site at Waltham Cross.

Speaking when the Waltham Cross news was announced, Ruth Porat, president and chief investment officer, chief financial officer of Alphabet and Google, said: “This new data center will help meet growing demand for our AI and cloud services and bring crucial compute capacity to businesses across the UK while creating construction and technical jobs for the local community.

“Together with the UK government, we are working to make AI more helpful and accessible for people and organizations across the country.”

Google Cloud, the company’s public cloud platform, has operated a UK region since 2017.