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An artist's impression of the new Apple data centre planned for Athenry.

Court supports €850 million Apple development in Athenry

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

Mr Justice Paul McDermott, in separate judgements on Thursday, 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 “masterplan” may or may not proceed in the future and were subject to “market demand”.

The reality is the other planned halls and asosciated 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 masterplan, he held the hall can operate on a standalone basis and can go ahead irrespective of future proposals for the site.

While the Board’s inspector had found the entire masterplan would have a “potentially material impact” in terms of increased overall CO2 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 very high energy consuming projects such as data centres, he added.

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

The judge found the Board and its inspector had considered and assessed the potential environmental impact of the overall Apple “masterplan” 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 23,505 square metres single storey data hall, a logistics and administration centre, ancillary and associated works. The masterplan for all phases of the date centre envisaged eight data halls in total plus other development, including an electricity sub-station and 144 standby diesel generators, to be built within a period of 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 change 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. He rejected arguments the Board’s conclusion was unreasonable and irrational.

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, but had not done so, that he was a director and shareholder of Ecologic Data Centre Ltd 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 hin sufficient interest to bring his case, the court rejected that, the judge said. The court was satisfed 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.

by Mary Carolan

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