Councillors slam Minister for reversing data centre ban

Gary Ibbotson 11 Aug 2022

South Dublin County Councillors have strongly condemned Minister for Planning Peter Burke’s decision to request that the local authority reverse its ban on the development of new data centres in the county.

Minister Burke told chief executive of the council Danny McLoughlin that the policy was in breach of national and regional planning strategy.

The banning of data centres, which was approved by councillors earlier this year, would have been included in the upcoming county development plan.

The planning regulator had previously informed the council that the banning of new data centres was not consistent with the proper and sustainable development of the area.

There are currently more 30 data centres operating in south Dublin with many councillors voicing their concern about the pressure their growth was having on the electricity grid.

However, the Office of the Planning Regulator told the council there was a “national objective to promote Ireland as a sustainable international destination for ICT infrastructures such as data centres and associated economic activities at appropriate locations”.

The council had not provided “any strategic justification to support making data centres a ‘not permitted’ use” in the development plan, it said, and there was not a “robust planning rationale for imposing a blanket restriction on data centres across all land use zonings in the development plan”.

People Before Profit councillor for Palmerstown Madeleine Johansson, who tabled the original motion proposing to ban the centres, said that she was “outraged” at the Minister’s decision.

“There has been increasing concern about the numbers of data centres in the South Dublin County Council area with 37 already in operation,” she said.

“Data centres use up a lot of energy and water and are putting increasing strain on the electricity grid in the Dublin region.

“Arguments put forward in favour of the amendment included the inability of Ireland to meet its carbon emissions targets, as well as the threat of power cuts as the grid comes under increased pressure.

“I am absolutely outraged by the decision of the Minister to overturn the moratorium which was agreed by councillors.

“This is an attack on local democracy and makes a mockery out of local decision making.”

Johansson said that the arguments made by the planning regulator and Minister Burke were “very weak.”

“In my motion I made strong arguments, backed up by facts, about Ireland’s inability to meet our Climate Action targets if we continue to permit more data centres.

“I also made reference to a number of objectives in national policy which would back a moratorium on data centres,” she said.

“I believe that there is a contradiction in national policy between our commitment to reducing carbon emissions and allowing more data centres.”

Sinn Fein councillor Derren Ó Brádaigh said that the move by Miniter Burke was “undemocratic” and undermines local Government.

“Earlier this year, councillors clearly expressed their preference to see a moratorium at the very least for the next six years, until more is known about the serious potential impacts of data centres on energy consumption, carbon emissions and their immense strain on water and electricity structures.

“With the County Development Plan now made and coming into effect this week, the intervention by the Minister at the eleventh hour, is in my view, undemocratic and undermines the role of councillors, in the carefully considered making of the plan.

“We have very clear commitments to drastically reduce our carbon emissions by 2030 and data centres simply make our targets increasingly more elusive,” he said.

Councillor William Carey also condemned the decision, saying that the County Development Plan was carefully drafted to account for all of the needs of the county.

“We spent the best part of a year going through this plan and we had long debates and discussions on several aspects of the plan,” he said.

“In general, councillors had taken advise from planners about how we should proceed and only made changes where we felt matters needed to be emphasized.

“In most matters we took direction from planning experts who made strong logical arguments to back up the direction envisaged for the county.

“However, on these two specific matters councillors had decided that it was in the interest of the people of South Dublin to insist that land was required for the expansion of industrial use, and that the proliferation of data centres in the county was a retrograde step for us.

Carey said that data centres take up a lot of land and use high amounts of energy and are low in job creation.

The decision by councillors to rezone land at Greenogue was based the desire to create space for jobs in fast growing towns and villages such as Newcastle, Rathcoole and Saggart.

“The decision by OPR to oppose the land rezoning was very lame and did not make sense,” Carey said.

He said that that local democracy is not being best served here by the minister’s decision and urged him to reconsider.

Regulator the Minister has issued a direction instructing the council to remove the amendment. The decision will go out to public consultation for two weeks.

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