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Planning regulator calls for ban on new data centres by South Dublin County Council to be reversed

The Commission of Regulation of Utilities ruled out a moratorium on new data centres.

Image: Shutterstock/mkfilm

THE STATE’S PLANNING watchdog has told South Dublin County Council to remove its effective ban on all future developments of new data centres within its administrative area.

The Office of the Planning Regulator has criticised recent amendments approved by councillors to the council’s draft development plan that would introduce such a ban as being without any “strategic justification.”

The controversial measure has also been opposed by IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and IBEC association, Cloud Infrastructure Ireland, as well as other business groups and several technology companies.

Amendments proposed by People Before Profit councillor, Madeline Johansson, which were passed by 18 votes to 14 in March resulted in data centres being changed from “open for consideration” on lands zoned for employment use to “not permitted.”

Although there are 1,352 hectares of lands zoned specifically for employment use in the county, approximately 624 hectares – 46% of the total area – remains undeveloped.

There are already several large data centres within the area governed by South Dublin County Council including sites in Grange Castle and Citywest where companies including Microsoft, Amazon and Google operate such facilities, while 90% of all data centres in Ireland are located in Dublin city and county.

Ms Johanssson said she had proposed the change because of her real concern about the pressure placed on  energy supplies by data centres which had also been highlighted by the operator of the national grid, Eirgrid.

“We’ve had power outages in the Clondalkin area in the past year and it is something that people are genuinely worried about,” said Ms Johansson.

The proposed ban on data centres in south Dublin comes a few months after Eirgrid said it would not be providing any new grid connections for data centres in the Dublin region until 2028 due to capacity constraints.

The Commission of Regulation of Utilities ruled out a moratorium on new data centres but said the location of future facilities and their ability to generate their own power supplies would need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

However, the OPR claims the council’s amendments in relation to data centres represent “au unconditional policy approach for which no clear evidence-based rationale is evident”.

The regulator also pointed out that the council’s proposed change on data centres is in conflict with regional policy objectives for economic development.

As the amendments represent a clear breach of planning policy, the OPR has issued a recommendation that they should be omitted from the final version of the plan.

IDA Ireland has warned that the amendments, which it branded as “unreasonable and unsound”, would undermine the future development of Ireland’s technology sector.

It urged South Dublin County Council to consider “the bigger enterprise picture” as Ireland had the long-term potential to supply ample renewable energy to a very large data centre sector.

The IDA said directions issued last year by the CRU struck a careful balance between location and energy usage.

The organisation said data centres were recognised as a significant growth area in the Republic which played a central role in attracting foreign direct investment from technology firms to Ireland.

The IDA said they also provide vital infrastructure for developing Ireland and Europe’s digital economies and advancing Ireland’s position as a strategic international location for IT services.

“If Ireland is to maximise the benefits of technology advancements brought about by 5G, AI, the internet of things and virtual reality, Ireland will need to continue to facilitate sizeable data centre growth,” it observed.

It added: “It is the IDA’s contention that further development of data centres is a prerequisite to supporting the long-term development of the technology sector and related employment.”

The IDA noted that the technology sector, which employs 140,000 people, is worth €52bn to the economy.

Enterprise Ireland chief executive, Leo Clancy, urged the council to consider the economic contribution of the sector to the growth of Irish companies and future opportunities before finalising its plan.

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Cloud Infrastructure Ireland said the proposed ban on data centres in south Dublin would be detrimental to the council itself, its citizens and the wider community.

It pointed out its member firms had paid in excess of €65m in rates to the council over the past five years as well as supporting many educational and community initiatives in South Dublin.

CII said data centres contribute €7bn in economic activity and directly support over 20,000 jobs.

CII director, Michael McCarthy, said the organisation understood the motivation for the ban was driven by environmental concerns but said it overlooked sustainability commitments and contributions made by the sector.

“If the construction of further data centres were to be prohibited under the new plan, South Dublin would unavoidably stand to benefit less from what has been an important job-creating industry for the area to date,” said Mr McCarthy.

South Dublin Chamber said it was alarmed at the proposed change and argued the issue of power and water supplies for data centres were “fundamentally national matters” which would be addressed by agencies like Eirgrid and Irish Water instead of leaving it to “a piecemeal approach based on each local self-interest.”

“No one would suggest a car could work without a battery and we do not see any way we can have a technology industry in Ireland without data centres,” said the chamber’s chief executive, Peter Byrne.

He pointed out that excess heat from a data centre was being used by the Tallaght District Heating System to heat civic offices.

South Dublin County Council said councillors would consider a report by its chief executive on submissions made to the amendments before finalising the development plan in June.

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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