Preparatory work on a new data center in County Meath is being challenged in the Irish High Court, with residents claiming unauthorized development has begun under the pretense of 'archaeological tests.'
First proposed in 2019, EngineNode was last year granted planning permission to build four two-story data centers with a combined gross floor area of ~92,100 sqm (990,000 sq ft) in Bracetown and Gunnocks, County Meath.
Neighbors to the development, Mannix Coyne and daughter Amy Coyne, are challenging the decision to grant the company planning permission. Now the Coynes have asked the court, pending the hearing of their main challenge to have planning permission for the development revoked, for an injunction preventing further works unless in compliance with planning permission and a declaration that the works carried out so far have been unauthorized.
The Coynes argued the company was ‘jumping the gun’ in carrying out certain works before the legal challenge to the planning permission is dealt with, saying unauthorized works have been carried out on the land under the guise of archaeological tests and normal agricultural clearance.
EngineNode has reportedly dug 206 trenches, more than 8 kilometers long over some 3.6 acres. Counsel said part of EngineNode's defense was to minimize the scope of the works that had been done as just "digging and refilling of a number of holes.”
"If 8km of trenches are just a number of holes, then the Atlantic Ocean is just water,” Peter Bland SC, for the Coynes Mr. Justice Anthony Barr.
EngineNode denied the claims and argues that the Coynes' application is an abuse of process.
It said no major excavation works have been carried out and those that have been are not unauthorized; that archaeological testing works have been carried out in compliance with all regulations and in consultation with the National Monuments Service. The works have reportedly been completed and reinstatement works have been carried out.
The case is ongoing.
The development has faced a number of legal issues up to this point. Irish planning regulator An Bord Pleanála last year dismissed complaints from a number of local and environmental groups trying to prevent the development, as well as the company’s own attempts to remove certain conditions around development.
However, the Coynes, who live close to the proposed development in Bracetown, soon filed a challenge against the decision in the High Court.
The Coynes claim the An Bórd Pleanála’s decision is flawed, invalid, and should be set aside, arguing it does not comply with planning regulations, the 2000 Planning and Development Act, the 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, the EU Directive on Environmental Impact Assessments, and the EU Habitats Directive.
Dublin-based EngineNode was founded in 2018 by Jason O'Conaill, Eir's former head of data centers and founder of Amazon Web Services Usergroup Ireland, and Ronan Kneafsey, a former managing director of telecoms and data centers at Eir.