Ap­ple gets per­mis­sion for first phase in €850m data cen­tre de­vel­op­ment

Com­mer­cial Court dis­misses chal­lenges to plan­ning per­mis­sion for fa­cil­ity Res­i­dents raised ob­jec­tions to Ap­ple site over con­cerns about green­house emis­sions

The Irish Times - - Home News - MARY CAROLAN

The Com­mer­cial Court has cleared the way for tech giant Ap­ple to de­velop a data hall in Athenry, Co Gal­way, the first phase of a planned €850 mil­lion de­vel­op­ment.

Mr Jus­tice Paul McDer­mott, in sep­a­rate judg­ments yes­ter­day, re­jected two judicial review chal­lenges to the planned data hall at Der­ry­don­nell, Athenry, the first of eight such halls Ap­ple may build over a 15-year pe­riod.

The judge noted Ap­ple had recog­nised each hall was a “stand alone de­vel­op­ment” and the other seven data halls pro­vided for in its “mas­ter plan” may or may not pro­ceed in the fu­ture and were sub­ject to “mar­ket de­mand”.

The re­al­ity is the other planned halls and as­so­ci­ated grid con­nec­tion will re­quire plan­ning per­mis­sion and a fur­ther En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact As­sess­ment (EIA), he said.

Re­ject­ing ar­gu­ments the data hall was a de­vel­op­ment that could only prop­erly be con­sid­ered as part of the over­all mas­ter plan, he held the hall can op­er­ate on a stand­alone ba­sis and can go ahead ir­re­spec­tive of fu­ture site pro­pos­als.

While An Bord Pleanála’s in­spec­tor had found the en­tire master­plan would have a “po­ten­tially ma­te­rial im­pact” in terms of in­creased over­all CO emis­sions, and hence im­pli­ca­tions for cli­mate change and Ire­land’s abil­ity to meet its green­house emis­sion tar­gets, the in­spec­tor con­sid­ered the po­ten­tial em­ploy­ment and re­gional de­vel­op­ment ben­e­fits of the cen­tre out­weighed po­ten­tial ad­verse cli­mate change im­pacts, the judge said.

The in­spec­tor had noted there is no na­tional cli­mate change pol­icy re­gard­ing high en­ergy con­sum­ing projects such as data cen­tres, he added.

He dis­missed the first chal­lenge, by lo­cal res­i­dents Sinead Fitz­patrick and Al­lan Daly, of Lisheenkyle, Athenry, whose con­cerns in­cluded those about the po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the en­tire de­vel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing green­house gas emis­sions.

En­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact

The judge found the board and its in­spec­tor had con­sid­ered and as­sessed the po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the over­all Ap­ple “mas­ter plan” and said he was not sat­is­fied, as the ap­pli­cants con­tended, the board was re­quired to carry out an EIA of the en­tire pro­posed project.

He found an ap­pro­pri­ate EIA as car­ried out in ac­cor­dance with na­tional and Euro­pean law and the pur­poses and prin­ci­ples of the rel­e­vant EIA di­rec­tive.

The per­mis­sion at is­sue con­cerned Phase 1, a 23,505sq m sin­gle-storey data hall, a lo­gis­tics and ad­min­is­tra­tion cen­tre, an­cil­lary and as­so­ci­ated works. The mas­ter plan for all phases of the data cen­tre en­vis­aged eight data halls in to­tal plus other de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing an elec­tric­ity subrsta­tion and 144 standby diesel gen­er­a­tors, to be built over 15 years.


He said the board’s in­spec­tor had con­sid­ered the ap­pli­cants had made a “strong” case in re­la­tion to their con­cerns about the pro­jected in­crease in data stor­age de­mand and likely im­pact of a sig­nif­i­cant change in tech­nol­ogy use.

The ap­pli­cants also raised is­sues about the elec­tric­ity de­mands re­quired for eight data halls and al­leged the board failed to prop­erly as­sess the im­pact of the de­vel­op­ment on cli­mate change.

While Ap­ple in­di­cated it used best tech­nol­ogy and de­sign to min­imise en­ergy us­age, the in­spec­tor had noted no direct re­new­able en­ergy con­nec­tions or re­new­able en­ergy projects were iden­ti­fied by Ap­ple in its sub­mis­sions, the judge said. The in­spec­tor was also not sat­is­fied it could be clearly shown power to the data cen­tre would be from 100 per cent re­new­able re­sources.

The in­spec­tor took the view the po­ten­tial em­ploy­ment and re­gional de­vel­op­ment ben­e­fits of the cen­tre out­weighed po­ten­tial ad­verse cli­mate im­pacts.

The board had ac­cepted the in­spec­tor’s find­ings and ul­ti­mate con­clu­sion and rec­om­men­da­tion the data hall could pro­ceed and it was en­ti­tled to do so, he said.

The sec­ond case was by Brian McDon­agh, Unit 1, Bal­ly­mount Cross Busi­ness Park, Dublin, who had said he “did not op­pose Ap­ple com­ing to Athenry” but wanted to en­sure com­pli­ance with “proper plan­ning pro­ce­dures”.


The judge found Mr McDon­agh lacked the nec­es­sary le­gal stand­ing to chal­lenge the board’s de­ci­sion for rea­sons in­clud­ing he does not live close to the site and had not par­tic­i­pated in the plan­ning process.

He said Mr McDon­agh should have dis­closed that he was a di­rec­tor and share­holder of Eco­logic Data Cen­tre which had se­cured per­mis­sion for a data cen­tre on a Co Wick­low site con­sid­ered as an al­ter­na­tive lo­ca­tion for the pro­posed Ap­ple de­vel­op­ment.

While Mr McDon­agh had in late Fe­bru­ary 2017 af­firmed his in­ter­est in the Co Wick­low cen­tre, and as­serted that gave him suf­fi­cient in­ter­est to bring his case, the court re­jected that, the judge said. The court was sat­is­fied there had been “sig­nif­i­cant non-dis­clo­sure and lack of can­dour” by Mr McDon­agh, which had not been suf­fi­ciently ex­plained, in his ac­tion in re­la­tion to his in­ter­est in chal­leng­ing the de­vel­op­ment.


The tech giant first un­veiled plans to build the cen­tre in Fe­bru­ary 2015 on the same day it un­veiled plans for an­other fa­cil­ity in Den­mark. The Dan­ish project has now been com­pleted.

Ap­ple has said it needs the Athenry cen­tre to deal with the growth in de­mand for data pro­cess­ing and stor­age. It has de­scribed the planned fa­cil­ity as “a crit­i­cal piece of in­fra­struc­ture” needed to sup­port global de­mand for stor­age.

More than 2,000 peo­ple staged a march in sup­port of the cen­tre in Athenry last Novem­ber while lo­cal busi­nesses in Co Gal­way had also ex­pressed con­cern the project might get shelved, which would cost the re­gion hun­dreds of jobs.

Some 300 jobs are fore­cast to be cre­ated over mul­ti­ple phases of con­struc­tion and on­go­ing em­ploy­ment in the op­er­a­tion of the cen­tre with 150 tech­ni­cal staff to be em­ployed on an on­go­ing ba­sis.

The project is ex­pected to be one of the big­gest pri­vate-sec­tor in­vest­ment in Con­nacht to date.


Sup­port­ers of the Ap­ple data cen­tre in Athenry leav­ing the Four Courts in Dublin yes­ter­day.

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