News Hub

Havering Council may avoid public consultation for ‘Europe’s largest’ data centre

Written by Thu 5 Oct 2023

Image of the proposed land for the Digital Reef Upminster Data Centre

Havering Council has opted to explore unconventional planning routes to avoid public consultation in building ‘Europe’s largest’ data centre campus submitted by Digital Reef.

Reported by The Havering Daily, the Council is considering a Local Development Order (LDO) to grant ‘upfront’ permission for the site.

LDOs are approved by council leadership, bypassing planning committees. These orders permit developers the right to construct specific buildings on a designated site.

LDOs are intended to streamline the planning process. Their implementation also makes investment in a site more attractive to developers.

In June, the Council’s Assistant Director of Planning, Helen Oakerbee, announced plans for an informal consultation later in the year.

However, in a briefing to the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee, Havering Council said it had decided to skip this step.

The Council will instead focus on producing detailed analysis and documentation for a formal public consultation. This will be held at a later date.

Oakerbee said that conducting an informal consultation regarding the specifics of the LDOs for the data centre proposal would be premature. They cited the absence of sufficient details as the reason for this opinion.

“What I’d really like to stress is, there will be consultation, and there will be formal consultation so this isn’t about progressing without consultation at all.

“It is about making sure that engagement in the formal sense of it is timed at the right point in the process with the right information,” said Oakerbee.

Councillor Jane Keane expressed ‘genuine concern’ about the Council proceeding to approve the LDO without conducting an informal public consultation.

“I think skipping the informal bit, I think is really not good, and particularly in the current climate … it’s a bit febrile anyway, about consultations not being consultations but virtually decided, and I do not think that is helpful.

“I do appreciate the tight timescales and this is a prestigious project, and other people are competing for it, so I do get the pressures,” said Keane.

Digital Reef is understood to have offered the Council a £9 million premium if the permission for the data centre is granted.

The next steps for the Council include formulating a draft statement for the reasons to opt for an LDO.

Digital Reef has published a detailed 132-page document on the environmental impacts of the proposal on the Council’s website.

If approved, Digital Reef will construct the data centre on a 200-hectare farmland site. The site resides to the east of Upminster and Cranham.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) previously opposed Digital Reef’s data centre project proposal.

Hungry for more tech news?

Sign up for your weekly tech briefings!

Written by Thu 5 Oct 2023

Send us a correction Send us a news tip