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Proposed £5.3bn Upminster data centre project could have ‘significant environmental impacts’

Written by Wed 23 Aug 2023

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

A major data centre development proposed for Upminster could have ‘significant environmental impacts’, according to Havering Council.

What could become ‘Europe’s largest data centre’ now requires a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Statement (ES).

The proposed development by Digital Reef is earmarked for green belt land near Top Meadow Golf Course in Fen Lane, Upminster. It would span up to 390,000 sqm, including data centre floorspace, electrical substations, battery storage, renewable energy facilities, and indoor agriculture farming operations

The screening option issued by Havering Council said the ‘permanent and irreversible’ development would impact environmental resources in the locality and on a wider scale, as well as diverting land from existing agricultural use.

Areas designated as a Countryside Conservation Area, Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, and Minerals Safeguarding Area would amount to a ‘fundamental change’ to the land use.

“The development would have the potential to have some significant environmental impacts upon the surrounding area for an extended period of time,” said planning officers.

Officers also stated that the benefit of an energy efficient development in the long term ‘does not outweigh’ the impact it would have on resources. This includes water, materials, and energy in the construction process.

Simon Thelwell, Head of Strategic Development at Havering Council, signed off on the screening opinion requiring an EIA and ES for the development. This will allow for a comprehensive evaluation of the potential environmental impacts before any planning decision is made on the Upminster data centre.

Objectors have raised concerns over green belt loss and impacts to protected environmental areas. Potential issues highlighted include noise, air pollution, visual impacts, flood risk, and impacts to biodiversity and public rights of way. These would need to be studied in detail through the EIA process.

The developer believes the project will provide local jobs and regeneration. Havering Council stated that the venture could create 2,370 permanent high-value jobs for local people through a £5.3 billion ($6.6 billion) investment in the development.

The full EIA will now allow an impartial assessment ahead of a planning application being submitted.

“There are huge benefits that the data centre and ecology park could mean for the borough, our residents, our country and indeed, the world.” said Councillor Graham Williamson, Cabinet Member for Regeneration.

In June, the Council confirmed they were considering the application through the lens of a Local Development Order (LDO), rather than a Planning Application. An LDO removes the need of a developer to apply for planning permission.

By granting an LDO, the council would give Digital Reef permission to build the fifteen warehouses and infrastructure at once.

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Written by Wed 23 Aug 2023

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