A decision by the Galway County Council last year to allow an extension of the building permit 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 would like to proceed with the plan, it would now need to make a completely new application for a building permit for the facility at the site at Derrydonnell Woods, as its previous permit has now expired.
However, the company stated earlier in 2018 that it no longer planned to build the facility at 850 million euros and although it declined to comment on the High Court’s decision, it is understood that its position on the project has not changed.
The technology company was first granted a building permit for the development in 2016, but two years later in 2018 it decided that it would not continue after protracted legal challenges delayed the start.
That permit would expire in September last year, which is why Apple, which at the time was still looking for a buyer for the site, applied to the council for a five-year extension.
The council granted the application in August last year, but it was again appealed in the High Court by local resident Allan Daly, who had been involved in previous legal action.
A separate challenge was also initiated by the non-governmental organization Eco-Advocacy.
The parties have confirmed that in the last fourteen weeks the Supreme Court has agreed to issue a decision revoking the Council’s authorization to grant the 5-year extension and that a written decision has now been issued.
The decision was made with the consent of lawyers for both the council and the state.
The opponents had argued that the Council had failed to assess the consequences of extending the authorization required by EU law.
They also claimed that the Council had not given any reason for its decision to grant the extension of the building permit and that Apple had not implemented the EU Habitats Directive correctly.
They also claimed that the Council’s decision last year was taken under legislation that did not allow the applicant or the public to get involved or submit an application for an extension of the duration of the building permit.
As a result, observation letters they submitted to the council about the plan to extend the building permit were rejected without being considered.
This claimed they were in breach of EU directives aimed at ensuring public participation in such processes.
Following the county council’s decision, the legislation has since been amended to reflect the requirements for consultation under the directive.
But at that time, the time frame for Apple to file a new application for an extension of the original building permit had expired.
The situation means that the only available option for Apple now, if it would like to revive its plans for a data center on the site, would be to submit a completely 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 application was made, Ireland’s data center has grown from 5% to consume 14% and is now estimated to require 30% of Ireland’s energy by 2030.”
“The condition should have been re-evaluated in light of this new landscape.”
Allan Daly also reacted to the development, saying that it was encouraging to see that the national discourse on data centers has made a “re-face” since the time the Apple project was first announced in 2015.
“Given the current energy crisis and the limitations of Ireland’s national electricity grid, it seems unwise for IDA Ireland to continue to court this form of development unabated,” he said.
“There is a very real opportunity here for Ireland to become a leader in the next generation of data centers and advanced energy reduction.”
“This would include requiring and stimulating technologies such as submersible cooling, waste heat recovery and district heating systems.”
Apple first announced plans to build the data center at Greenfield in February 2015.
The following September, the Galway County Council granted permission for it to continue on parole, but that decision was then appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
After oral hearings, the planning committee confirmed the permit in August 2017.
However, the case was subject to judicial review by a number of opponents and it ended with it first going to the High Court and then appealed to the Supreme Court, before the objections were rejected by that court in 2019.
This latest court decision comes amid a moratorium on Eirgrid’s decision on power grid connections for new data centers proposed for the Dublin region, where such permits have not already been granted.
This is due to concerns about the load placed on Ireland’s electricity network by data centers.
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