Apple Galway data center planning extension canceled
A decision by Galway County Council last year to allow an extension to planning permission granted to Apple to build a data center on land in Athenry Co Galway has been overturned by the High Court.
The move means that if Apple wanted to proceed with the plan, it would now have to reapply for planning permission entirely for the facility at the Derrydonnell Woods site, as its previous permission has now expired.
However, the company previously said in 2018 that it was no longer planning to build the €850million facility and although it declined to comment on the High Court order, it is understood that its position on the project has not changed.
The tech company first won planning permission for the development in 2016, but two years later, in 2018, decided not to proceed after lengthy legal challenges delayed its start-up.
That permission was due to expire in September last year and so Apple, which at the time was still looking for a buyer for the site, asked the council for a five-year extension.
The council granted the request in August last year, but it was again challenged in the High Court by local resident Allan Daly, who had been involved in the earlier legal action.
A separate challenge has also been issued by the non-governmental organization Eco-Advocacy.
The parties have confirmed that within the past fortnight the High Court has agreed to make an order quashing the council’s leave granting the 5 year extension and the written order has now been issued.
The decision was made with the consent of council and state attorneys.
Opponents had argued that the board failed to assess the implications of extending the authorization it was obliged to give under EU law.
They also claimed that the council had provided no reason for its decision to grant the extension of the building permit and that Apple had failed to properly implement the EU Habitats Directive.
They also argued that the council’s decision last year was made under legislation that did not allow the claimant or the public to engage or make submissions on a request to extend the duration of the building permit.
As a result, the observation letters they submitted to council regarding the planned extension of planning permission were dismissed without consideration.
According to them, this was contrary to EU directives aimed at ensuring public participation in such processes.
Following the County Council’s decision, the legislation was subsequently amended to reflect the consultation requirements under the Directive.
But by then, the deadline for Apple to submit a new application to extend the term of the original building permit had expired.
The situation means that the only option now open to Apple, if it wanted to revive its data center project on the site, would be to submit an entirely new application.
“EU law specifically requires an assessment of other plans or projects,” said Kieran Cummins, director of Eco-Advocacy.
“In the 6 years since this app was created, Ireland’s data centers have grown from 5% to 14% and are now expected to require 30% of Ireland’s energy by 2030.”
“The clearance should have been reassessed in light of this new landscape.”
Also reacting to the development, Allan Daly said it was heartening to see the national discourse regarding data centers have turned around since the Apple project was announced in 2015.
“Given the current energy crisis and the constraints of Ireland’s national grid, it seems unwise for IDA Ireland to continue to relentlessly court this form of development,” he said.
“There is a very real opportunity here for Ireland to become a leader in next-generation data centers and advanced energy consumption mitigation.”
“This would include requiring and encouraging technologies such as immersion cooling, waste heat recovery and district heating systems.”
Apple first announced plans to build the data center on the greenfield site in February 2015.
The following September, Galway County Council allowed him to continue with conditions, but this decision was later appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
Following oral hearings, the planning board upheld the permit in August 2017.
However, the case was subject to judicial review proceedings brought by a number of opponents and eventually went first to the High Court and then on appeal to the Supreme Court, before the objections are rejected by this court in 2019.
This most recent court decision comes amid a moratorium on Eirgrid’s decisions regarding grid connections for new data centers proposed for the Dublin region, where such permissions have not yet been granted. .
This is due to concern over the pressure put on the Irish power grid by data centres.