Havering Data Centre: An Update
A lot has been reported about the proposed data centre in Havering, unfortunately not all of the reporting appearing to be correct.
Our Strategic Planning Committee received a presentation from the company proposing the centre, ahead of them submitting any planning applications. This 'pre-application' discussion is a useful opportunity for Councillors and developers to share ideas and to make sure we're on the same page. What is discussed in these meetings should shape the application to come.
I used my time, in the meeting, to dig into the green credentials of the data centre. I also looked at the claims around job numbers and made some recommendations for the team to connect with local community groups. Especially those concerned with the environment and cycling.
A video of my questions is below and I have also outlined my questions and responses.
It is important to note two things;
1) I am not able to express an opinion on the development as committee members must not be 'closed minded' or 'pre-determined' when the application comes before us.
2) The presenters won't have all the answers. They should, however, note our questions and address these at application stage.
Will construction be disruptive?
What's being proposed is neither small nor quick to build. This means construction traffic could be very disruptive and the area isn't known for it's fantastic roads.
The presenters informed us that the site would be built using innovative, off site, modular construction. I've worked in housing, with a company who does this, and so that raised some red flags for me.
Modular is good for the actual site itself, it means less dusty noisy work and fewer lorries. However, the trucks that do turn up are massive as they are transporting partially complete buildings. I asked the developers where they are building these modular units and how they will transport them into Havering.
We were told that there were ambitions to develop a 'modular industry' in Havering, which can export globally. However, the presenters informed me that they had not yet identified a site for a modular factory in South Havering, as they wish.
This was concerning as they want to apply for planning permission by the end of this year. I'd have thought they'd needed to have found and built a fully working factory in order to crack on with this site. We'll need to know how often lorries will appear in the area, what roads will be blocked, and for how long.
That said, the initial construction work will be in prepping the site. This won't require a modular factory. It may be that they do groundwork and build the factory, elsewhere, at the same time.
Is it really green?
This site is going to be on greenbelt land and so the 'green credentials' of the data centre are very important.
First thing to understand was the 'green energy production'. It appears that most of this won't actually take place on the site. The developers are going to fund the upgrade of the national grid locally, which will enable land around the site (owned by others) to be converted into solar and wind farms. The data centre will plug into these and will be 'net zero' in operation. However, it won't be generating green energy itself.
There are going to be some green energy innovations. The site will be have involvement in green hydrogen production and heat from the data centres will be used for heating an urban farm concept (looking at how to more efficiently grow food in the UK).
I asked that the public not be misled with any claims about green power production and the developers will take this on board.
As part of my 'green' questions, I also asked that they measure the embodied carbon (carbon used in construction) as well as the environmental impact of their battery energy storage plans. Batteries are not clean yet.
Connecting with the community
Havering has some fantastic, well established, community groups. Some of these focus on the environment and cycling.
I asked the developers to connect with these groups with regards to the operation of the site as well as the local infrastructure. Specifically, I mentioned that they need to look at cycling provision as there is no point in providing cycle storage facilities if there are no cycle paths nearby.
The developers have said that they will be looking at investing in local cycling infrastructure. This will include routes that cross the M25 as well as routes through Thames Chase Forest.
Job generation figures also need to be clear. The day to day running of the site isn't going to require much more than a few dozen people.
Money for Havering
So, is Havering going to get loads of money from this and, if so, when?
Well, we didn't get much information on that. There are some big figures flying around.
However, this is a secondary issue to me. I don't want Havering to sell off it's green spaces just for a bit of cash. So, whilst I am keen to see some revenue from this, I've not asked questions on that yet.
Also, the committee can only make a decision based on 'material planning considerations'. If we voted based on how much money would come into Havering, then we'd open the borough up to being bribed into giving up land and planning control.