December 11, 2023

Planning permission for a data centre in Athenry now expires in 2026 as Apple seeks to sell the site for development by another party.

Apple has been granted a five-year extension of its planning permission to build a data centre on a site in Athenry, Co Galway.

The company made the application to Galway County Council in June, despite having cancelled its plans to build an €850m data centre there in 2018 in the face of planning objections and delays. In 2019, the Times reported that Apple was seeking to sell the Athenry site, advertising it as a “ready-to-go data centre development site”.

In the extension application, Apple said it intends to “support the provision of the consented works by identifying interested parties to develop the project”.

The application also cited “strong, and growing global demand forecast for data storage” as evidence for both the necessity of building a data centre and its ability to sell the Athenry site to a company that would go on to complete the plans that Apple once had.

This week, Galway County Council decided to grant the extension, meaning permission to build a data centre on the site is now valid until August 2026. In the application, Apple said that once it finds a party to develop the site, the buyer would “proceed with the consented works within the relevant timeframes”.

The Planning and Development Act 2000 requires applicants for a permission extension to demonstrate considerations “beyond the control of the applicant” that “substantially militated against” either the commencement or completion of the project.

Apple pointed to the objections to the plans, which made their way to the Supreme Court. It said these, combined with the arrival of the pandemic in Ireland in March 2020, had prevented the fulfilment of the plans before permission was due to elapse this month.

The data centre plans were first announced in 2015 after Apple acquired the Derrydonnell site in Athenry the previous year for approximately €15m.

Numerous companies have sought to establish or expand data centre operations in Ireland in recent years, including an application for a €1.2bn data centre in Ennis that was lodged last month. But Apple’s plans have not been the only ones to face opposition, with Amazon facing climate-related objections to its proposed development in Drogheda.

Numerous concerns have been raised about the sustainability of data centres and their impact on Ireland’s emissions targets. A 2019 report by national grid operator EirGrid forecast that such facilities would account for 29pc of Ireland’s electricity usage by 2028.

Last weekend, the Business Post reported that the Commission for Regulation of Utilities said demand for electricity was soaring in Ireland and recommended that the retiring of coal fired power plants be postponed. Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report saying that human activity is having significant and irreversible impacts on the climate.


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