Amazon's €1bn Dublin data centre campus thrown into doubt

Amazon hopes to begin on the site in mid-2017 - but an appeal could delay that

Amazon's €1bn Dublin data centre campus thrown into doubt

A view of an Amazon sign at the fulfillment centre in Hertfordshire, UK | Image: Nick Ansell / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Amazon has big plans for Ireland.

In March, it revealed that it was planning to build a €1 billion data centre campus in Dublin, and just last month it was granted planning permission for the first phase of that project by Fingal County Council.

Now however the project has been thrown into doubt by two objectors who this week lodged objections to the planning decision to An Bord Pleanala, with one of those objectors the same man who is attempting to prevent Apple from building its €850 million data centre in Athenry.

The first phase of Amazon's plan is building a huge 223,000 square foot data centre in Mulhuddart, which is estimated to cost in the region of €200 million. However the company has said that if all goes well, it could add up to another seven data halls on the 26-hectare site in Mulhuddart, owned by the IDA - potentially costing over €700 million. Despite the huge scale of the operation, Amazon says the project will only generate around 30 full-time jobs.

Fingal granted planning permission for the project last month and the e-commerce giant said that it anticipated construction work would begin on the site in mid-2017. The appeal to An Bord Pleanala - which was confirmed to Newstalk by the agency this week - could delay that significantly.

David Hughes, an architect, who also submitted an observation on Apple's planned project in Athenry, is one of the objectors. The other is Allan Daly, an environmental consultant based in Athenry, who is currently one of three people taking part in a judicial review of Apple's $850 million data centre project near the Galway village.

The reason for Daly's objection? "The primary ground of my appeal is that the developer failed to disclose the electrical power and energy that the data centre will use, which is an impact that requires assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive," Daly said.

Daly already sent his observations to Fingal County Council, pointing out that Amazon had failed to reveal the exact amount of power it would require, but the planning authority decided to grant permission anyway.

Energy needs

Apple did reveal the amount of energy it would use if the entire project was built, which Daly claimed in his initial submission to Galway County Council, would account for 8 percent of the entire national grid. Daly believes that by not revealing how much energy it is using, Amazon is being given the freedom to draw as much energy as it wants.

Daly's objections to Apple's planned development follow a similar line. He feels that planners and regulators in Ireland are not putting in place the right guidelines and regulations in relation to data centres. As a result, the explosion in data centres being built and planned in Ireland could end up crippling the country's power grid.

Amazon has failed to respond to a request for comment from Newstalk about the possible delay in its data centre project.

It is unclear how much of a delay the objections will have on the project. The next step in the process is that An Bord Pleanala sends a copy of the appeal back to Fingal County Council, where it is available for inspection by the public and to any other parties to the appeal. In most cases the Board then appoints an inspector, who will be a qualified planner, to consider the case. Usually the inspector visits the site and take photographs in order to help make their recommendation. The inspector makes a written report to the Board and members then convene to consider the entire file and make a final decision.

In particularly complex cases, or developments of significant national or local interest, an oral hearing may be held. This was the case in the Apple data centre project, after which An Bord Pleanala upheld the decision of Galway County Council. Daly however appeal that decision to the Commercial Court, which heard the case in March and is due to mention it again next month. It is unclear when a decision will be made.

It is therefore impossible to say with any accuracy how long of a delay these objections will have on the Amazon data centre - but the Apple case can give some clues.

When Apple announced plans to build a data centre campus in Athenry in Feburary 2015, it also announced plans to build one in Denmark. While the planned site of Apple's Irish development lies untouched, in Denmark, the first data centre is set to go online in just a few months time.