Decision described as ‘hammer blow’ to west Ireland and comes before supreme court hearing

Apple is scrapping plans for an €850m (£743m) data centre in Ireland after three years of planning approval delays, the company has said.

Plans for the European data centre were announced in February 2015, to be built in Athenry, County Galway, where green energy sources were available. The project was stalled by a series of planning appeals by conservationists seeking to preserve a forest.

Last October, Ireland’s high court ruled that the data centre could proceed, dismissing the appellants, who took their case to the country’s supreme court.

“Despite our best efforts, delays in the approval process have forced us to make other plans and we will not be able to move forward with the data centre,” Apple said in a statement before a supreme court hearing on Thursday.

The world’s most valuable company announced plans for a data centre in Denmark at the same time as Athenry, which came online last year. Apple announced plans to build a second centre in Denmark in July. It said it still planned to expand its European headquarters in Co Cork.

“There is no disputing that Apple’s decision is very disappointing, particularly for Athenry and the west of Ireland,” said Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s minister for business and enterprise. “These delays have, if nothing else, underlined our need to make the state’s planning and legal processes more efficient.”

Paul Keane, the founder of the Facebook group Athenry for Apple, expressed anger after the decision was announced, saying it was “an absolute hammer blow to the locality and to rural Ireland”. The project would have been the biggest private investment in western Ireland and would have created about 300 construction jobs as well as 150 permanent jobs.

One in every 10 jobs in the Irish economy is created by foreign multinational companies such as Apple. Significant investments such as data centres are viewed by Dublin as a means of securing multinationals’ presence in the country.

The Irish government is in the process of amending planning laws to include data centres as strategic infrastructure, allowing such projects to get through the planning process much more quickly.

Dublin said last month it had agreed a deal with Apple that would mean the US tech firm paying €13bn in back taxes. The repayment was ordered by the European commission, which said Apple had received favourable terms that amounted to state aid.

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