Apple’s first data centre in Ireland is facing delays after unhappy Irish citizens lodged formal complaints with the Irish government.
Apple filed its planning application last April and was hoping to start building the €850 million (£644 million) data centre on a 500-acre site before the end of last year, but a decision won’t be made until the summer, a local councillor told Business Insider.
The application is being held up by the Irish government, which is currently reviewing a number of appeals that were made after Galway Council granted Apple planning permission to build a data centre.
The Cupertino-headquartered company wants to use the data centre — which would be situated in the middle of Derrydonnell Forest near a small town called Athenry, in County Galway, on the west coast of Ireland — to store European user data and to help power online services including the iTunes Store, the App Store, iMessage, Maps, and Siri for customers across Europe.
The data centre — which Apple says will be totally powered by renewable energy — will be built on recovered land previously used for growing and harvesting non-native trees. Apple said it would restore native trees to Derrydonnell Forest if it was given permission to build the data centre. The company also said the development would include an outdoor education space for local schools, as well as a walking trail for the community.
Business Insider visited the site and found that the vast majority of locals were in favour of Apple’s data centre, which could create up to 300 jobs in the area, initially for construction workers but ultimately for IT professionals.
Joe Duff, who runs a bar in Athenry, said it was great to see Apple paying an interest in the area, adding: “People need work here.”
Despite economic benefits, between 20 and 25 complaints were made to Galway Council by local residents and other Irish citizens when Apple’s plans were made public. Complainants argued that the data centre would increase noise and light pollution, flooding, and traffic. Some also said it would act as an eyesore and others said it would harm the local badger and bat populations.
After reviewing the complaints, Galway Council granted planning permission to Apple in September, allowing it to build one of the eight 263,000 square feet data halls it ultimately envisions for the site. Apple will have to reapply for planning permission each time it wants to build a new data hall. If the complete project goes ahead then it will be done in a phased approach taking at least 15 years to complete.
Peter Feeney, a Galway County Councillor, told Business Insider that a number of follow-up appeals were made by several of the original complainants after planning permission was granted to Apple.
The appeals were made with An Bord Pleanála — an independent body that decides on appeals from planning decisions made by local authorities in Ireland.
An An Bord Pleanála committee of 10-12 experts (including architects, environmentalists, and planners) is currently looking over the complaints and is due to issue a response in mid-February.
“Often their response is we won’t decide on this for another month,” said Councillor Feeney. “And then when that date comes up, they would delay again. They are obliged to respond [to complainants] but not make a decision.”
Since receiving the appeals, the committee has asked Apple for additional information on particular aspects of the data centre, Business Insider understands. However, it’s unclear whether Apple has complied.
Feeney predicts that An Bord Pleanála won’t issue a final decision on the data centre until June.
Apple acknowledged that the review process is ongoing but said it expected a final decision to be made in February or March
Apple was initially hoping the data centre would begin operations at some point in 2017 but the latest setbacks suggest a later start date may be on the cards.
Apple told Business Insider it is optimistic that the data centre will still open on time.
Some 5,500 of Apple’s 18,300 European staff are based in Ireland, which is also home to its European headquarters. The company plans to hire an additional 1,000 staff in Ireland before 2017.
Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have also built data centres in Ireland, and Facebook also has one planned. Many of them have based their European headquarters in the country, which offers a lower corporation tax rate than other European nations.
Elsewhere in Europe, Apple is planning to build a data centre in Denmark on the same scale as the one in Ireland. The company does not reveal where all of its data centres are but reports suggest Apple also has data centre facilities in Newark, Santa Clara, and Cupertino on the west coast of the US, as well one in Maiden on the east coast.
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