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Apple seeks five-year extension to planning permission deadline for Irish datacentre site

Tech giant Apple has requested a five-year extension to the planning permission deadline for its abandoned datacentre in Ireland, as politicians call for the mothballed site to be put to use

Apple has re-applied for planning permission to build a datacentre in Athenry, County Galway, as the deadline to deliver on the original plans for the site are nearing expiration.

The technology giant originally secured planning permission to build an €850m datacentre in Derrydonnell Forest in Athenry back in 2015, but later abandoned its plans after progress on the project stalled in the face of various legal actions and local opposition to the project.

In October 2019, it emerged the site had been put up for sale, and was being marketed by real estate agents in both Ireland and the US as a “ready-to-go datacentre development” called “Data Hub West”.

The marketing materials for the site state that the “masterplan” is for the site to house a total of eight data halls once the development is completed, although planning permission has at present only been granted for the first phase of the build.

However, the planning permission granted for the first phase of the build, which covers the construction of a data hall, a logistics and administration building, and other “ancillary structures and site works”, is due to expire on 24 September 2021.

According to a filing on the Galway County Council planning portal, the site remains under the ownership of Apple Data Services, and an entity trading as Apple Distribution International filed an application on 14 June 2021 to request the planning permission deadline for the development be extended by five years.

“It is anticipated that the development will be completed within the extension period sought, i.e. by the 7 November 2026,” the filing states.

Read more about Apple's datacentre development woes

At the time of writing, the application is still being assessed by the local council, but the supporting documents state that an extension is being requested to give Apple more time to find a third-party to develop the site.

“It is the applicant’s intention to support the provision of the consented works by identifying interested parties to develop the project and who can then proceed with he consented works within the relevant timeline,” the document stated.

Computer Weekly contacted Apple and the real estate agents overseeing the marketing of the site to find out how efforts to find a developer are progressing, but no response from either party was forthcoming at the time of publication.

When news first emerged in October 2019 that the Athenry site had gone on sale, datacentre market industry watchers said they expected it to sell quite quickly given Apple’s plans for the site had been approved by the council and by the courts, and also because of how high demand for datacentre capacity in Ireland is.

That said, the majority of the datacentre development interest to-date has been come from the hyperscale cloud giants wanting to build out their server farm footprints in and around the Dublin area.

So much so concerns have been repeatedly raised by market watchers, government policy makers and utility providers about whether Dublin’s electricity grid is equipped to cope with the growing and intensive level of demand the city’s transformation into a major datacentre hub is generating.

Earlier this month, this led to the Irish Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) to instruct Ireland’s National Grid operator to prioritise applications from datacentre operators requesting access to the grid whose sites will be located where power supplies are in abundance.

Sustainable management

According to the Irish Times, this decision has resulted in the future of around 30 proposed datacentre developments being called into question, and also coincides with the start of a consultation by the CRU about the sustainable management of power supplies to datacentres.

As the Irish datacentre community awaits the outcome of the consultation, a Sinn Féin representative for Galway East, Louis O’Hara, has called for the Athenry site to be purchased by the state so that it can be repurposed as a hub for local and overseas start-up businesses.

As reported by the Galway Advertiser, said the site should not be left “lying idle” as it has “significant potential”, if it were to receive the backing of state agencies and bodies like IDA Ireland that are concerned with attracting overseas investment to Ireland.

“Athenry and communities across County Galway are crying out for investment,” said O’Hara. “The economic benefits that development of the site would bring would provide an enormous boost to the region, increasing local employment, driving regional development, and ensuring our local communities have a sustainable future.”

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