Minister’s move makes mockery of decisions
INSTRUCTIONS from the Government overruling two decisions made by South Dublin County councillors in the upcoming County Development Plan are “a serious blow to local democracy”, according to a councillor.
A protest outside the office Minister of State with responsibility for Local Government, Peter Burke TD, has been planned for this week for people to express their “anger and disappointment” about the overruling of the councillors’ decisions.
The first of these decisions is a moratorium on the development of data centres in South Dublin County for the six-year period of the next County Development Plan.
This decision was reached after the issue was discussed in council meetings, and concerns about the impact of data centres on the national electricity grid and water supplies were voiced.
The moratorium is part of the South Dublin County Development Plan 2022-2028 and was voted on by councillors and approved at the previous stage of the County Development Plan last March.
However, the chief executive of the council recommended the removal of the moratorium for the final version of the plan, which was then voted on again last June and the moratorium was reinstated.
The Office of the Planning Regulator had issued a recommendation to remove amendments concerning the moratorium, on the basis that they did not align with national policy on data centres which does not support a ban or moratorium.
According to a Bitpower Energy Solutions report in May 2021, South Dublin County has 34 operational data centres, the majority of which (23) are in Grange Castle and Profile Park.
A further 11 are operational within Citywest/Parkwest/Tallaght. The report listed another three under construction, 12 approved for planning, and another four were in the planning stage.
Major multinational companies, like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon, have invested in substantial data centre infrastructure in Dublin in recent years.
In a letter issued to South Dublin County Council last week, the Department of Local Government directed that the moratorium be removed as it is inconsistent with a Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) “which promotes Ireland as a sustainable international destination for ICT infrastructures such as data centres and associated economic activities at appropriate locations.”
The local authority was also instructed to retain rural zoning for a section of Greenogue Business Park, which councillors had voted to rezone for enterprise and employment uses.
The site “is remote from high quality public transport and outside the designated strategic employment development areas identified in the RSES for the Dublin Metropolitan Area” and therefore rural zoning should be retained, according to the Government.
The Government advised that a local objective which requires site-specific flood alleviation measures to the north and east of the existing Greenogue Business Park be omitted.
These instructions from the Government have led a number of councillors to voice their frustration and opposition to the omissions that are being made.
Sinn Féin councillor William Carey said: “This is a serious blow to local democracy, whereby the work undertaken by the elected members for the county has been undermined and overturned by a government department, whose interests are dictated by a national policy which does not take [into] account the vagaries of local needs.
“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.
“In general, councillors had taken advice from planners about how we should proceed and only made changes where we felt matters needed to be emphasised.
“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.”
People Before Profit councillor Madeleine Johansson, who tabled the motions for the moratorium of data centres, also expressed her annoyance at the Government’s directives.
Cllr Johansson said: “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.
“The arguments put forward by the Office of the Planning Regulator against the amendment were very weak, and centred around the fact that there is no national policy to ban data
“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.
“I believe there is a contradiction in national policy between our commitment to reducing carbon emissions and allowing more data centres.
“It’s clear to me that this Government is more interested in looking after the big corporations than tackling climate change and ensuring that our local communities have sufficient electricity to heat their homes.”
Cllr Johansson added that People Before Profit will be holding a protest outside Minister Burke’s office at Custom House Quay today, Thursday, August 4 at 1pm to “show our anger and disappointment”.