Council delays decision on Apple data centre in Galway

Group of locals oppose planned location of new €850 million complex near Athenry

Apple has chosen the "wrong site" for its proposed €850 million data centre near Athenry, Co Galway, according to a group of residents who have objected to the planning application.

Energy use concerns, impact of noise on a local primary school and on bird life, and the potential for a "greenway" cycle route are among the issues raised in a number of submissions on the project lodged with Galway County Council.

Residents of Lisheenkyle, near Oranmore in Co Galway, are critical of the environmental impact statement (EIS) accompanying Apple’s planning application, which seeks approval for a 24,505sqm single-storey data centre building, along with logistics, administration, maintenance and security buildings in the townland of Palmerstown and Toberroe near Athenry.

Galway County Council was due to issue a decision on the application on Thursday, but has confirmed that it is seeking “further information”.

The application includes proposals for 18 generators and a 2.4m high perimeter security fencing, along with supplementary tree planting, landscaping and an “amenity walkway”.

The company had promised an "outdoor classroom" for Lisheenkyle National School, which backs up onto the woodland area. The 227-pupil school already has a "seomra na coille", or "eco-classroom", and its own 11kw wind turbine for its energy needs.

However, the group of Lisheenkyle residents, which includes parents with children in the school, state that the EIS is “inadequate” as it does not deal with issues of noise and vibration from “traffic generation” and the running of 18 generators.

The residents are concerned about the impact on both human and animal health - including that of the 300 children and staff at the Lisheenkyle school, and the sheep, dairy herds, Connemara ponies and livestock reared in adjoining land.

Their submission, prepared by HRA Planning town planning consultants in Limerick, said that the development is in the “wrong location and on the wrong site, remote from existing services and facilities and identified centres of population” and materially contravenes the Galway County Development Plan 2015-2021.

An Taisce says it is “pleased” that the company has publicly stated that its data centre will be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, but says that the sourcing of this needs to be built into the planning and ongoing development of the site from the beginning.

It also recommends optimum mitigation of the night-time lighting used at the centre, as storing artificial light could have a negative impact on birds.

‘Carbon neutral’ transport

A community based organisation, the Athenry Revival Group, says that “carbon neutral” forms of transport to and from work should be written into the planning application, and proposes that a “greenway” footpath/cycling route should be provided by Galway County Council, running parallel with the line earmarked for the Western Rail Corridor.

The provision of a "greenway" is also raised in submissions from Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins and the Sligo Mayo Greenway and Western rail trail campaigns.

Ms Higgins says that the “greenway” would allow for sustainable transport commuting by staff and would link into the national cycle network, including the Dublin-Galway route currently under construction.

She says that Apple should be asked to consider contributing funding for the cycleway/walkway, and suggests the potential for “naming rights”.

The multinational announced in February that Co Galway was one of two European locations for new data centres - the second being in Denmark.

Galway’s chamber of commerce welcomed the €850 million project, which promised some 300 jobs should it open in 2017.

Energy links and security were said to be factors in the choice of location in a conifer plantation owned by Coillte, along with the weather in the west of Ireland. Data centres produce enormous amounts of heat and require constant cooling.

Apple has promised that it will use renewable energy at the centre, but the details of how this would be achieved have been queried in several of the submissions.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times