Sunday 21 October 2018

Fast-track planning for data centres will 'help avoid repeat of upsets like Athenry'

Martin Shanahan welcomed changes to planning process. Photo: Frank McGrath
Martin Shanahan welcomed changes to planning process. Photo: Frank McGrath
John Downing

John Downing

Government moves to fast-track planning permission for data centres can help avoid upsets like the delay and doubt surrounding Apple's €850m project, IDA boss Martin Shanahan has said.

He welcomed confirmation by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that data centres, like the proposed Apple project for Athenry, in Co Galway, will in future be considered as "strategic infrastructure" in the planning approval system.

This means that plans for such centres can go directly to An Bord Pleanála, and will no longer need initial planning from the relevant local authority.

The designation is to allow projects to move through the planning phase faster. The change will not make any difference to the Athenry data centre, which has been delayed for two years due to appeals and legal challenges.

Apple revealed at the weekend that it was not proceeding with the project, at least in the timescale originally envisaged. This raises huge doubts about the project going ahead at all.

Mr Shanahan, the IDA chief executive who was with the Taoiseach's party on the visit to the US when the Apple decision came to light, agreed that the planning delays were a problem. He did not entirely abandon hope for the Athenry development, but he could not say when Apple might give an update on the issue.

He welcomed the proposed planning permission rule changes. "Anything which helps the predictability in the timeframe of the planning process on these projects will help," Mr Shanahan told RTÉ.

Mr Shanahan also agreed that, in some instances, the shortage of housing in Ireland was raised by potential overseas investors. He conceded that the issue was a major challenge, but he also said he believed finding solutions was a priority for the Government.

The IDA boss said that Ireland had a good record of winning big inward investment projects, both from the Taoiseach's recent business trip and over the past two years. But winning job-creation projects remained a very competitive field, with 100 investment agencies, like the IDA, vying for investment on the west coast of the US.

Fianna Fáil enterprise spokesman Dara Calleary said planning for data centres must be urgently addressed. "It was a great confidence boost for a small town...to get an Apple project like this, and the delay and doubt is similarly a big blow to that confidence," Mr Calleary said.

Mr Calleary, a TD for Mayo, said the west of Ireland had huge potential for data centre development, given the climate and other advantages. "We respect that people can have an input into planning decisions, but that must be tempered by the need to have decisions made quickly, and the reality that a majority of people may well want that development, as was the case in Athenry," he said.

Mr Calleary also said his party colleague, Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte, had already proposed that the fast-track planning be implemented. He hoped this could now be done without delay.

Irish Independent

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