Data centre proposed for Havering green belt

Plans for a huge data centre on Havering’s green belt are likely to be submitted through a “local development order”.

Developer Digital Reef is proposing to build 15 warehouse-sized data storage facilities within a new 500-acre “ecology park” on farmland to the east of Upminster and Cranham.

Havering Council has now said that its preferred route for planning permission is to use a local development order (LDO).

By granting an LDO, the council would give Digital Reef “upfront” permission to build the fifteen warehouses and infrastructure in one go.

According to a council planning committee report published this week, choosing this route over multiple planning applications to be decided by a committee would provide “certainty” about what Digital Reef can build on the site.

Once an LDO is approved, Digital Reef would then have the right to construct “specified types” of buildings.

The report adds: “[Planning authorities] can use LDOs to enable growth by positively and proactively shaping development in their area.

“LDOs can play an important role in incentivising development by simplifying the planning process and making the investment more attractive.“

The planning department is now “channelling” its efforts into using the LDO route but says a final decision has not yet been made.

The report, prepared for the council’s strategic planning committee, which usually decides major planning applications, is due to be discussed in more detail at a public briefing on the data centre on Thursday (8th June).

Havering’s planning department has also emphasised that the council will still need to ensure that environmental legislation is complied with.

If the council and Digital Reef choose to take the LDO route, they will have to draft a “statement of reasons” including why such a large development should be built on protected green belt land.

They will then consult the public on the order and ask the government for final approval.

Digital Reef calls the proposals the “London Data Freeport” and has published early designs showing green roofed warehouses next to a public park.

It claims the site will be “carbon neutral” thanks to electricity generation on-site and the biodiversity from turning the farmland into a park.

Late last year, Havering Council’s cabinet member for planning and regeneration Graham Williamson said the proposals are “too good to pass up” due to the economic benefits.

Digital Reef has since offered the council a £9 million “development premium” if planning permission is granted.

However, CPRE, The Countryside Charity, has called the proposals “inappropriate development on Green Belt” that ”run entirely counter” to national and London planning policies.

The charity slammed the council for sinking “valuable time” into the data centre which is “unlikely” to gain planning permission.

It added: “Even if the borough accepts a case for the ‘exceptional circumstances’ needed to release Green Belt for development, it is highly unlikely the London Mayor would sanction such a development given London Plan policy on green belt.

“A more appropriate course would be to work with developers and landowners to establish a site of previously developed land, in a sustainable location, which needs this type of investment.”

To watch Thursday’s meeting, visit this link: https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=590&MId=7714

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter