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Planned 600MW East London data centre faces environmental opposition

Written by Thu 17 Nov 2022

Construction of a ‘nationally significant’ data centre complex on the outskirts of London now faces opposition from a group that claims the project will ruin the countryside.

Plans for the £5.3 billion facility – the largest in Europe – were approved by the Havering Council last week. The proposal, submitted by Digital Reef, is to develop 499 acres in a semi-rural area of Essex, part of the London green belt.

While the focus of the plan is to build a 12-building data centre campus spanning 110,000 square metres, there is a provision that 300 acres will be given over to a public ecology park.

Until now, the green belt was zoned to prohibit development and protect the greenfield status of the property. While the plan received council approval, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) told the Telegraph that they were organising opposition to the planned data centre.

“We are astonished and appalled the council has agreed to sink valuable time into developing a proposal which will cause massive environmental damage and is highly unlikely to gain permission,” said Alice Roberts, CPRE’s Head of Campaigns.

Opposition to the data centre proposal has two facets. The first is that the development does not belong on property protected as a greenfield site. The other is that a data centre of this size will put undue stress on the power grid in the area.

Ray Morgon, Leader of Havering Council, noted that the data centre project presented an opportunity for the community: “I am truly excited for the opportunities that this inward investment can bring to the borough and our residents. Havering can be incredibly proud to have attracted this investment interest through to this crucial stage,” he said.

As the largest data centre in Europe, the facility will likely pull a large amount of power from the electrical grid. In fact, documents published by the council suggest that the campus will require 600MW of power to operate at peak capacity.

A spokesperson for the Energy Markets Association said that the local grid could support the Digital Reef data centre: “UK Power Networks are now working hard to ensure a smooth connection to their network in collaboration with transmission owner National Grid.”

Construction of the data centre campus would add an estimated £3 billion to UK GDP across five years, in addition to £12 million per year awarded to Havering Council in business rates once the project is completed.

This data centre is not the first that has been the subject of protest by local groups, both those that are concerned about the potential impact of construction on local environments, and those that are focused on protecting power capacity for households and other businesses on the grid.

In Ireland, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) warned businesses that data centres were putting too much stress on grids, particularly those located in urban areas. As a result, proposals for data centres in rural areas would be prioritised. Following this announcement, Microsoft and AWS pulled €2bn in planned investments in Dublin data centres.

Written by Thu 17 Nov 2022

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