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Legal row over Apple's abandoned bid to build an Irish datacentre rumbles on

The Supreme Court has opted to reserve its judgement until a later date about whether or not Irish planning chiefs were right to award Apple planning permission for its now defunct plan to build a datacentre in Athenry

The legal wrangle over whether or not Irish planning chiefs were right to approve Apple’s now abortive attempt to build a €850m datacentre in County Galway in Ireland continues to rumble on.

Apple officially pulled the plug on the project in May 2018, more than three years after first setting out plans to build a datacentre in the area, but the objectors to the build are still appealing against the decision to award the firm permission to proceed with it in the first place.

Two longstanding objectors to the project, Allan Daly and Sinead Fitzpatrick, are currently waiting on a judgement from the Irish Supreme Court regarding an appeal they lodged against Irish planning board An Bord Pleanála.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court confirmed it was reserving its judgement on the case, following a two-day hearing, and gave no indication as to when this will be made public.

The appeal centres specifically on An Bord Pleanála’s decision to give Apple the go-ahead for the project in 2015, and has already been dismissed by the Irish High Court, before being escalated to the Supreme Court.

The objectors are contesting whether or not the planning body should have carried out an environmental assessment of the entire project, which was on course for Apple to build a total of eight data halls on the site.

Apple only submitted a planning application for the first phase of the build, but allusions were made during the planning process that additional data halls could be added incrementally to the site over time.

Read more about the Irish datacentre market

Apple is still listed as the registered owner of the site, giving hope to local supporters of the project that, should the courts rule against the objectors, the firm might yet renege on its earlier decision.

Computer Weekly contacted Apple for comment on this story, and for feedback on what its plans for the site might be, but – at the time of writing – no response had been forthcoming.

Either way, the outcome of the case could have big repercussions for the continued growth of Ireland’s burgeoning datacentre market if the court finds in favour of the objectors.

For instance, concerns have been repeatedly raised over the course of the Apple case that the situation could put other operators off siting their facilities in Ireland.  

The country has, however, undertaken a review of its planning laws over the course of the past year to make them more accommodating to the datacentre community, and prevent others running into the same legal and planning delays as Apple previously encountered.

This work has included a reclassification of datacentres as “strategic infrastructure developments”, which – in theory – should speed up the time it takes to win planning permission approval for these facilities.

Read more on Datacentre capacity planning

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