May 17, 2022

A High Court challenge has been brought against a decision to extend the life of a planning permission granted allowing tech giant Apple build a data centre in Co Galway.

Galway County Council was not entitled to make a decision extending planning permission to build the centre, located near Athenry in Co Galway, the High Court heard.

Apple secured permission to build the centre from An Bord Pleanála in 2016, but citing lengthy delays shelved its plans to go ahead with the development in May 2018.

The board’s decision allowing Apple to build the €850 million facility was the subject of a legal challenge by local residents.

That case raised important issues concerning environmental impact assessments (EIA) in regards to other infrastructure projects.

In 2019 the Supreme Court upheld the board’s decision to grant permission. The court ruled that the board was not obliged to carry out a full EIA on the entire master plan.

The court also said the it did not consider it necessary to refer the issues for ruling by the European Court of Justice.

The High Court heard on Thursday that one of the local residents, Allan Daly, who took the earlier action, is now seeking to challenge Galway County Council’s decision to extend the duration of the original planning permission granted to Apple in 2016.

Extension application

Oisín Collins, instructed by solicitor Aoife O’Connell, for Mr Daly said while Apple never went ahead with the project, and no works have ever been carried out on the lands, it applied to the council to extend the life of the planning permission granted in 2016.

Counsel said that the original permission was due to expire on September 24th, 2021, which was the end of the permission’s standard five-year lifespan.

Earlier this year Apple sought to have the permission extended by a further five years. Counsel said that Apple also said in its application that it expected the development to be completed within the period of the extension.

He said that what was stated in the application to extend permission was contrary to statements made by Apple during the earlier proceedings before the Supreme Court and to the media.

Mr Collin said that while Apple’s position appeared to want to extend a permission, it had in fact no intention of giving effect to it.

He said his client had made submissions to the council on the extension application. However, those submissions had not been considered by the local authority as part of the decision-making process.

He said that the action had been brought on grounds including that, contrary to his client’s rights, the matter had been determined by the council without any public consultation or without considering Mr Daly’s submissions.

It is also argued that the development required to be assessed in order to comply with European Union directives on habitats and EIAs.

Documentation submitted in respect of those requirements had been prepared six years ago, counsel said.

The information in those documents was out of date, and needed to be updated before any decision to extend permission could be made, he added.

Emissions

Carbon emissions targets and policies had changed significantly in recent years, and no account seemed to have been taken of this, it was alleged.

Galway County Council was not entitled to make a decision extending permission without first being provided with up-to-date material regarding habits and an EIA, counsel said.

No adequate reasons had been given for the local authorities’ decision to extend permission, it was further submitted.

In judicial review proceedings against the council, Ireland and the Attorney General, Mr Daly is seeking orders quashing the council’s decision to extend the duration of the permission granted to Apple.

He is also seeking an order quashing the council’s decision not to accept submissions he made in July 2021 in respect of the application to extend the duration of the permission.

Apple Distribution International Limited is a notice party to the action.

The matter came before Mr Justice Brian O’Moore, on an ex-parte basis, during Thursday’s High Court vacation sitting. The judge adjourned the case to a date in October, when the new legal term commences.

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