London: Havering Friends of the Earth raise concerns over data center plans

Jun 14, 2023 | Posted by MadalineDunn

Havering Friends of the Earth has voiced concerns over an application to build a data center on Green Belt land. Digital Reef is proposing a huge data center campus in East Havering, within a new 500-acre site, with 67% of the land dedicated to an "ecology park." The company has offered the council a £9 million "development premium" if its request is granted.

However, HFoE is against the proposal, noting that the development is not an 'exceptional' case as to "justify the damage to the natural environment." It also cited remarks from The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), which reportedly is 'appalled' that the council is looking at this scheme favorably.

The organization outlined what is a common criticism of data centers - they're huge energy consumers. This one will require 600 MW, which HFoE said will come from the existing Ockenden substation, which is not a renewable energy source. Further, the group said that it is "disingenuous" of the application to highlight the solar farm at Cranham, as it is unrelated to the proposal for North Ockendon.

The group concluded: "We believe there should be a full Planning Application, so that the public can have time to understand the nature of this development."

In response to discussions about exploring the development through the lens of a Local Development Order (LDO), Councillor Graham Williamson, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, recently commented: "I am pleased that the presentation to the Strategic Planning Committee once again went well and there is growing support for this project. There are huge benefits that the data centre and ecology park could mean for the borough, our residents, our country and indeed, the world."

Previously, Williamson called the proposals "too good to pass up" due to the economic benefits.

LDOs remove the need for the developers to apply for planning permission, and, if granted, would mean that the development could go ahead in one go.