Apple is facing opposition for a new €850 million (£677 million) data centre on the west coast of Ireland from a golf club that dates back to 1902.
Athenry Golf Club appealed Galway County Council’s decision to let Apple construct a new data centre on a plot of land approximately one kilometre from its course, according to documents available through the council’s website. The golf club wrote its appeal on October 5 2015.
Apple filed a planning application to build a 263,000 square foot data centre hall in the middle of Derrydonnell Forest next to the golf course last April. Apple only sought planning permission for one data centre hall but it envisions building up to eight in a phased approach taking at least 15 years to complete. Apple would have to reapply for planning permission each time it wants to build a new data hall.
Martin Hynes, chairperson of Athenry Golf Club, and John O’Beirn, treasurer of Athenry Golf Club, write in their appeal: “Our primary concern is the totality of the proposed development, especially the extent of the proposed masterplan, and the potential this has to alter the hydrology of the local area and potentially increase the frequency and duration of flooding already experienced at the golf club.”
The golf club paid €220 (£175) to file the appeal with An Bord Pleanála — an independent planning group that decides on appeals from planning decisions made by local authorities in Ireland.
Hynes and O’Beirn also stated that if the data centre build does go ahead, then they would rather construction work is “curtailed on Saturdays as this is our busiest day on the course.” They added: “We would also request that due consideration is provided for in the planning consent conditions to facilitate certain key competitions.”
Apple 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 — 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, according to a press release.
On the issue of flooding, Apple’s “Environmental Impact Statement” states:
A Flood Risk Assessment was undertaken by Arup and is appended to the EIS. The assessment determined that the risk of fluvial flooding of the site is considered to be very low, as there are no watercourses on the site or in close proximity to the site. The site is located in Flood Zone C i.e. outside the 1 in 1000 year fluvial flood extent. Therefore, a Justification Test for the proposed development is not required.
There is a low risk of groundwater and pluvial flooding of the proposed data centre development. Notwithstanding this, it is proposed to install measures to mitigate this risk. The measures will consist of a comprehensive drainage network, designed to the 1 in 100 year storm standard. The drainage network will consist of filter drains and surface water drains that will convey surface water to infiltration swales around the site allowing percolation back into the natural groundwater system.
In an extreme pluvial event, any overland flow from the development is likely to flow south-westwards and dissipate and naturally infiltrate through soil strata at the south western area of the site. Therefore, the potential off-site impacts of the development are considered to be very low.
The lands to the south of the site are noted as “Lands liable to flooding’ on old Ordnance Survey maps. The proposed development will not worsen the already existing situation. By careful consideration and adoption of the proposed flood mitigation measures, the risks relating to flooding for this proposed development are considered to be low and at acceptable levels, and therefore comply with Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government/Office of Public Works and Galway County Council guidelines.
County Galway Council granted Apple planning permission for a single data hall last September, despite receiving complaints from 20-25 parties. 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.
Several follow up appeals, including that of the golf club, were then made to An Bord Pleanála. 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 May at the earliest. It was initially due to pass a decision in February but it said it had not received enough information from Apple to make a decision.
Apple was initially hoping the data centre would begin operations at some point in 2017 but the setbacks suggest a later start date may be on the cards.
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 built data centres in Ireland, while Facebook also has one planned. Many of those companies 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.
Apple declined to comment.