Objectors to Apple data centre plan consider appeal move

Commercial Court ruling allows first phase in US technology giant’s €850m project

Locals in Athenry celebrate as the Commercial Court clears the way for tech giant Apple to develop a data centre in the town, the first phase of a planned €850million development. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

 

Objectors to technology giant Apple’s plans for a European data centre near Athenry in east Galway are considering whether to appeal the Commercial Court ruling which paves the way for the first phase of the €850 million project.

In separate judgments on Thursday, Mr Justice Paul McDermott 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 on a 500- acre site.

Rejecting arguments that the first data hall was a development that could only properly be considered as part of the overall masterplan, Mr Justice Mc Dermott held that the hall can operate on a standalone basis, and can go ahead irrespective of future proposals for the site.

Neither Apple nor the parties seeking the judicial reviews made any public comment on Thursday. An appeal has not been ruled out, and objectors were said to be studying the judgement on Thursday night.

Athenry residents supporting the project and business groups welcomed the decision, with business representatives criticising the delays involved and calling for reform of the planning process.

Undisclosed sum

In February 2015, Apple first announced its plans to construct the data centre as one of two in Europe on a site at Derrydonnell woods, acquired from Coillte for an undisclosed sum. Employment of up to 300 was promised – with 150 of these jobs in construction.

Galway County Council approved the plan in September, 2015, and this was appealed to An Bord Pleanála, which gave planning permission with more conditions in August 2016.

A concurrent application for the construction of a 220kV sub-station and a grid connection was submitted directly to the appeals board and approved.

The large energy requirements of data centres and the need for an environmental impact assessment of all eight proposed data halls were central to the judicial review sought by local residents Allan Daly and Sinead Fitzpatrick, while a separate review was taken by Brian McDonagh, Unit 1, Ballymount Cross Business Park, Dublin.

The parties have been given just four days to consider Mr Justice Paul McDermott’s rulings, and are due back before him on Monday to say whether they intend to seek permission to appeal the decision.

If the parties do seek leave to appeal, a date for hearing the leave application will be fixed later, and the case could be referred to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court.

Particular issues

The Supreme Court could decide to refer particular issues to the Court of Justice of the EU. Separately, the appellants could petition the European Commission to take action against the State.

Minister of State Seán Kyne, a TD for the Galway-West constituency, said while the court ruling was “great news for Athenry and the country”, the delays have caused “some loss of reputation internationally”.

“If this decision had gone the wrong way, it could have sent a very poor signal to other companies,” he told The Irish Times.