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Apple wins Irish court backing for €850m datacentre in Athenry

After more than two years of planning delays and appeals, the Irish court has quashed two legal challenges to Apple’s plan to build a datacentre in the west Ireland town of Athenry

The Irish High Court has granted Apple permission to proceed with its plans to build an €850m datacentre in Athenry, County Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, after quashing two legal challenges to the project.

During the hearing at 11am on 12 October, Justice Paul McDermott rejected two judicial reviews raised by local objectors, paving the way for Apple to crack on with building its 24,500m2 datacentre – and accompanying 220kV power station – in Athenry’s Derrydonnell Forest.

The first challenge, instigated by environmental engineer Allan Daly and local legal expert Sinead Fitzpatrick, saw the pair contest an earlier decision by the Irish planning body, An Bord Plenala (ABP), to grant Apple permission to proceed with the build.

ABP’s involvement in the planning process followed environmental objections raised against Galway County Council’s decision to give Apple conditional consent to proceed with the project in September 2015.

The court refused a second challenge, pursued by local businessman Brian McDonagh about the project’s conservation impacts on the area, and described it as “without substance” in the full 18-page judgment seen by Computer Weekly.

Computer Weekly understands Daly and Fitzpatrick have until 2pm on Monday 16 October to lodge an appeal against the Commercial Court’s ruling in the case.

Computer Weekly contacted Apple for a statement, seeking clarification on when it plans to begin the build, but had received no response at the time of publication.

A town divided

The project has proved hugely divisive in the town of Athenry, with supporters hailing the economic benefits of having a company like Apple set up shop there, while objectors have repeatedly raised environmental concerns about the build.

Supporters of the project have banded together through the creation of the Athenry for Apple Facebook page and have previously held rallies in the town and have spoken at length about the direct and indirect benefits the town is sure to feel from the project going ahead.

For example, the project is expected to create 420 construction jobs in the town, which local business owners claim will result in secondary economic benefits for local shops and infrastructure providers.

Read more about the Irish datacentre market

Athenry for Apple founder Paul Keane, who attended the court today, claims that Daly and Fitzpatrick’s legal teams initially sought leave of a couple of weeks to mount an appeal, and he views the fact that this request was not granted as a positive sign.

“The advice I am getting so far is that the judgment is very strong against any [appeals],” Keane told the group’s 4,200 members via a Facebook video. “I don't want to say it is a done deal, but it is looking good so far.”

Speaking to Computer Weekly, John Moylan, a director of one of Athenry’s largest local employers, SIP Energy, welcomed the judgment. “It now means the town can get to work on making the project a vital part of our town’s infrastructure and its workforce a welcome addition to our local community,” he said.

Irish planning review sought

The Irish government is said to be considering making changes to its planning laws and processes in the wake of the case to prevent other would-be datacentre investors from having their plans kicked into the long grass as Apple has.

Speaking at the inaugural Datacloud Ireland event in late September, Patrick Breen, Irish minister of state for business, enterprise and innovation, said any changes that are pushed through would centre on addressing the amount of time it takes to get a final decision on whether a build can proceed.

“Let me affirm that the government is considering what policy and legislative changes may be possible to maximise certainty and timelines of the decision-making and the planning and judicial process for further datacentre proposals,” he said.

Although the outcome of the Apple case is now known, cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) is still waiting to hear whether an environmental appeal against its plans to build a €1bn datacentre in Dublin has been successful.

AWS initially received permission from Fingal County Council to proceed with the project, before Daly and another co-objector sought to contest the decision with ABP.

A decision on the case was originally due on 25 September, but has been postponed until 24 November, with board-level staff shortages at ABP thought to be to blame.

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