THE objections of local residents to a new 1,000,000ft² data centre counted for little on Monday, as a proposal to vary the County Development Plan to facilitate the project at Toureen, on the outskirts of Ennis, was unanimously passed by Clare County Council.
The council claims that the project could deliver 200 permanent data centre jobs, another 150 ancillary jobs and 50 maintenance jobs. Some 1,100 construction jobs would be supported over five years of construction.
At the council meeting, director of service Liam Conneally reiterated his view that if the project goes ahead, it will be “a game changer” for Clare and Ennis. However, the data centre would not be one of the three largest employers in the county even if what is projected comes to pass.
Prior to the meeting, members of the council got a report from chief executive Pat Dowling, which summarised a number of submissions that had come in from the public, including one from a local residents’ group,which was signed by 40 people.
The summary of their submission noted that they were “objecting strongly” to the development and there were numerous issues raised. “The pond on the site is fed by numerous springs in the area. The residents’ group would have grave concerns regarding ground-water pollution in the area and of the pond. The location of diesel-fed back-up generators to facilitate the development is noted. The large surface car-parking areas could lead to ground-water pollution.
“A data centre and power plant by way of its height, sound, lighting, would be detrimental to those who walk, cycle, run and enjoy the countryside.
“The variation does not have regard to the volume of existing households, which would be adversely impacted by the proposed development, nor were they consulted in advance. Local residents who run businesses from their homes would be adversely impacted.
“Traffic volumes would increase as a result of the proposed development during the construction and operation phase, which would negatively impact the local residents by way of noise, traffic and general disruption.”
It added, “Clare County Council is requested to investigate other suitable sites in the environs of Ennis to see if a brown-field site would be more suitable”.
In the chief executive’s response, he said the residents can have their grievances dealt with at a later stage of the planning process. “With regard to the specific details in relation to height, lighting, traffic etc of any proposed development on the Toureen lands, I note that the residents’ group would have an opportunity to view the proposals and to make submissions, if they saw fit, on specific project level detail at the planning application stage.”
Councillor Johnny Flynn also made a submission, expressing support for the general principles of data centres in Ennis and Clare. However, he also expressed concern about a lack of any requirement to provide buffer zones to mitigate impacts on adjoining residences and businesses, the need for improvements to the M18 and R352 and the need for flood-risk reduction.
In the chief executive’s response, he stated, “With regard to providing buffer zones to remove negative impacts to adjoining residences and businesses, I am of the opinion that this is a consideration for development management
at the planning application stage, whenever a specific detailed development proposal is made and where an assessment can be made of the impact of any proposal on the residential and other amenities of the area. As such, I do not consider that additional text or buffer zones should be included in the proposed variation.
“Improvements to junctions on the M18 are within the remit and the responsibility of the TII, who have not raised any issue with regard to junction capacity in their submission on this variation at this plan stage. The traffic management plan for the construction and operational phase of the development to be submitted with development proposals will inform any requirements required to other junctions along the R352 and will be part of the planning application process.”
Regarding flooding, he stated, “I value the detailed knowledge of Councillor Flynn in relation to local flooding issues in the Toureen area and the concerns that any proposed development on these lands may impact at other locations within the vicinity. The proposed variation sets out the requirement for a hydrological assessment to be submitted with any future development proposal, which will determine the effects, if any, of a proposed development on ground waters, both within and off site. As such, I consider that the proposed variation clearly sets out the requirement for this to be assessed and addressed as part of any future planning application.”