Supreme Court told planning law “radically misapplied” in Apple Athenry case

Galway Daily news Apple granted extension of permission for Athenry data centre

The law was “radically misapplied” by An Bord Pleanála when they gave the go ahead for Apple to build an €850 million date centre in Athenry the Supreme Court has been told.

While Apple has decided to give up its plans for a data centre in Athenry after the project spent years in legal limbo, the Supreme Court is still hearing two objectors’ case.

The central part of the objection has always been whether An Bord Pleanála was obliged to consider the environmental impact of eight data halls, Apple’s masterplan for the site, instead of just the one hall which was contained in the application.

According to the Irish Times Barrister for the applicants Michael McDowell SC said that the board cannot allow a “slicing and dicing” of major projects to avoid considering environmental impact questions.

An Bord Pleanála is opposing the appeal by local objectors Sineád Fitzpatrick and Allan Daly, as its outcome may influence future planning decisions.

However, Apple informed the Supreme Court that they were withdrawing from the case just before it was due to come before the court in May.

The five judge Supreme Court is considering several legal questions arising from the High Court’s refusal of the objector’s case, such as whether it involves general principles of EU law.

If the court finds that it does, then the case may have to be referred to the EU Court of Justice.

Mr McDowell said that despite planning inspectors saying the site would be unsuitable for a data centre unless all eight data halls were built, An Bord Pleanála only considered the impact of one hall in makings its decision.

The objectors claim that when fully constructed the data centre would have increased the demand on the national electricity grid by between 6 and 8 percent.

This case highlights the lack of regulations and framework in place to govern data centres and other projects that come with extremely high energy demands.

It was expected that the construction phase of the €850 million data centre would create 300 construction jobs, with as many as 100 full time employees when operational.

Apple said that the data centre would be 100 percent powered by renewable energy, but the inspector cast doubt on that claim.

The issue remains an important one to debate as other data centre projects remain in the pipelines.