Apple seeks to fast-track challenge to €850m Galway data centre

Tech giant wants to avoid delay of up to 18 months over objections to Athenry facility

Apple chief executive   Tim Cook: the tech giant wants to build up to eight data halls on a 500-acre wooded site, currently owned by State agency Coillte, outside Athenry. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Apple chief executive Tim Cook: the tech giant wants to build up to eight data halls on a 500-acre wooded site, currently owned by State agency Coillte, outside Athenry. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Apple has asked the High Court to fast-track a legal challenge by a handful of objectors to its stalled €850 million data centre investment in Athenry, Galway, seeking to avert a potential delay of up to 18 months under a judicial review.

The technology giant has moved to have the dispute entered on to the commercial list of the High Court, a special division set up to expedite legal disputes with more than €1 million at stake. This would result in a decision over the Athenry project within about six months.

A motion to have a legal challenge by the three objectors to the plan entered on to the fast-track commercial list will be heard by the High Court on November 7th, the day before a hearing was due to be held in relation to the judicial review.

Apple first announced its intention to invest in the Athenry data centre in February 2015, the same day as it announced a similar €850 million investment in Denmark. Construction on the Danish centre is already well advanced, while the Irish proposal remains stalled.

The proposal would see Apple build up to eight data halls on a 500-acre wooded site, currently owned by State agency Coillte, at Derrydonnell, about three miles outside of the Galway town.

While the planned investment was welcomed by local business interests and is supported by many who live in the town, about 20 objectors, including some local residents, objected when planning was sought from Galway County Council.

Environmental grounds

An Bord Pleanála

After public hearings in Galway this summer, the board approved the project in August. In recent weeks, however, three objectors – local residents Sinéad Fitzpatrick and Allan Daly, and Wicklow landowner Brian McDonagh – asked the High Court for a judicial review on environmental grounds.

A review could delay a final decision by at least a year and possibly up to 18 months. This has prompted Apple to express alarm to senior State officials and local supporters who fear the investment could be lost.

The court has not yet formally granted a full judicial review of the proposed development, although it has granted the objectors leave to seek one. An Bord Pleanála could yet oppose the application for a review, although this would be considered unlikely and a full review looks set to be ordered on November 8th.

Apple’s move in recent days to ask the Commercial Court to step in on November 7th will, however, change that timeframe. If the matter is accepted on to the commercial list, a decision would be expected next spring.

Local politicians, including Fine Gael TD Ciarán Cannon, have campaigned strongly for the project to go ahead, although the judicial review application has effectively taken it out of the hands of officials.

Apple was unavailable for comment, while Mr Daly and Ms Fitzpatrick had not responded to a request for comment prior to publication.