Ireland's leadership in data centre projects received a significant boost this morning with the news that the Irish Commercial Court ruled in favour of Apple’s data centre in Galway. The decision is very welcome for the economy in that region and for the IDA’s search for additional suitable sites for large data centres across Ireland, launched in June 2017.
The Commercial Court today rejected the two challenges to the planning permission for Phase 1 of the Apple data centre in Athenry. There is an eight-phase masterplan for eight data halls on the site.
The first case challenged the site selection and the extent of the environmental assessment in the planning process. It was argued that the planning permission for the Phase 1 data hall would not have been granted if that phase were not part of the wider project for eight future data halls. Thus, the Court was asked to infer that planning permission was granted on the basis that it was intended to complete the masterplan. The power supply development for the data centre could carry the power that might be required to operate future data centre halls. It was submitted that the environmental impact assessment for the planning permission ought to have assessed the impacts on the environment locally, nationally and globally of the eight data halls.
The Court rejected all of those submissions.
The Court held that there was no obligation to carry out an environmental impact assessment of the entire masterplan which was not the subject of the current planning application. The Planning Board assessed the cumulative impacts which were likely to arise from the completion of the first data hall and the power supply development. The planning permission included an assessment, insofar as it was practicable at that time, of the future proposed development in the masterplan, which must be the subject of future applications. The Court found that the Planning Board should not “embark on speculation in relation to future contingencies prior to any appropriate future application or to predetermine at this stage the outcome of any such applications”.
The Court also rejected allegations that the emergency back-up generators had not been adequately assessed, and ruled that the decisions of the Planning Board contained an adequate record of the assessments that were carried out.
The second case was taken by Mr McDonagh who, it was alleged in the case, “sought to market his lands [in Wicklow] with benefit of planning permission to Apple to meet its datacentre requirement”.
The Court held that Mr McDonagh did not have the necessary legal standing to take the challenge, and also ruled against his case on other grounds.
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