Court to hear tomorrow if any further appeal to Apple’s Galway data centre plans

A judge may be told tomorrow if there will be any application to appeal his decision permitting tech giant Apple to develop the first phase of a planned €850m data centre in Co Galway, writes Ann O’Loughlin.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott, in separate judgments last Thursday, rejected two judicial review challenges to An Bord Pleanala’s permission for the planned data hall at Derrydonnell, Athenry, the first of eight such halls Apple may build over a 15 year period.

The Board’s August 2016 permission concerned Phase 1 of the planned development, a 23,505 square metres single storey data hall, a logistics and administration centre, and associated works.

The Apple masterplan for all phases of the centre envisages eight data halls plus other development, including an electricity sub-station and 144 standby diesel generators, to be built over15 years.

The judge had listed the cases for mention before him on Monday but, due to closure of the courts as a result of Hurricane Ophelia, the matter has been relisted for 2pm on Tuesday.

Appeals concerning a planning decision may be brought via two possible routes.

The first route arises if the judge who heard the case agrees to certify an appeal to the Court of Appeal on the basis their judgment raises a point of law of exceptional public importance which it is necessary, in the public interest, to have determined.

The second route is via an application to the Supreme Court for permission for a “leapfrog” appeal directly to that court. The Supreme Court may permit a leapfrog appeal – one bypassing the Court of Appeal – if it considers the case involves a point of law of general public importance or one necessary, in the interests of justice, to determine.

The first of the two separate challenges to the Apple project was by local residents Sinead Fitzpatrick and Allan Daly, of Lisheenkyle, Athenry, whose concerns included about the potential environmental impact of the entire development, particularly about greenhouse gas emissions.

The judge found the Board and its inspector had considered and assessed the potential environmental impact of the overall Apple "masterplan" and disagreed with the applicants the Board had to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the entire proposed project.

An appropriate EIA was carried out in accordance with national and European law and the purposes and principles of the relevant EIA Directive, he held.

While the Board’s inspector found the entire masterplan would have a "potentially material impact" in terms of increased overall CO2 emissions, and hence implications for climate change and Ireland’s ability to meet its greenhouse emission targets, the inspector considered the potential employment and regional development benefits of the centre outweighed potential adverse climate change impacts, the judge noted.

The inspector had observed there is no national climate change policy regarding very high energy consuming projects such as data centres, he further noted.

Apple, he said, had recognised each hall was a "stand alone development" and the other seven halls may or may not proceed in the future and were subject to "market demand".

The second case was by Brian McDonagh, Ballymount Cross Business Park, Dublin. The judge found Mr McDonagh lacked the necessary legal standing to challenge the Board’s decision for reasons including he does not live close to the site and had not participated in the planning process.

Mr McDonagh should have disclosed at an early stage he was a director and shareholder of Ecologic Data Centre Ltd which had secured permission for a data centre on a Co Wicklow site considered as an alternative location for the proposed Apple development, the judge added.


 

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