Monday 21 October 2019

Surge in local support for €500m data centre

Petitions appeal to planners to keep progress on track

Deputy Pat Casey at Avoca River Park, where it’s proposed to build the data centre
Deputy Pat Casey at Avoca River Park, where it’s proposed to build the data centre

Niamh O'Connor

Two public petitions showing a groundswell in local support for Arklow's proposed €500m data centre are being sent to An Bord Pleanala.

Wicklow Councillor Mary Kavanagh (NP) sent 1,500 signatures she collected online to the planning authority saying she was 'disgusted' to learn that the one objection to the project, which had been lodged 'at the eleventh hour on March 14 - the final day for objections', could delay the planning process for 18 weeks.

'It's not that the data centre itself would be a massive employer in its own right,' she said. 'It might employ between 60 and 90, and then there'd be another 400-450 jobs in the construction phase, but it's what it could potentially do for the south east - the further industry that it could attract - that would offer such a wonderful opportunity for the east coast, from Bray to Arklow.'

Fianna Fail Deputy Pat Casey also organised a petition in more than 40 shops and businesses in Arklow, as well as online, telling the Wicklow People that the response had been 'very good'.

'The common good should prevail,' he said. 'Mr McDonagh [the objector] got planning permission for a data centre in Newtownmountkennedy some years ago, which he never acted upon.

'I helped him rezone the site just outside Kilpedder from employment at the time. But that was four to five years ago. This is the largest investment in industry in Wicklow in generations and I am determined that this project gets off the ground.'

Ireland's cool climate appeals to data-server companies because they can save money on energy costs. Data centres are warehouses containing computer servers - the engine of the internet - but need air conditioning to keep servers from overheating. If they can be kept cool naturally, it brings down the heating bill.

Mr McDonagh of Dromin House, Drummin East, Delgany also objected to Apple's proposed data centre in Athenry, Co Galway, which has since been abandoned. He was refused an application for a judicial review in the High Court and criticised by the judge Paul McDermott for not disclosing his own data centre interest.

His objection to the Arklow project is on the grounds of flood risk, greenhouse gas emissions, and the effect on other local businesses. A newspaper article with the heading 'Too Many Data Centres?' was included with his submission.

'The current application is considered premature and should the Board grant the local authorities permission, this would be a significant undermining of the already granted permission by the Local Authority the application number Wicklow 10.2.123,' the objection states.

Deputy Casey said he hoped the Arklow project would not get bogged down in similar planning problems as Apple, given that the Athenry plant had since been lost, and he appealed to An Bord Pleanala to stick to the 18 week review process and not to seek any extension.

Arklow councillor Pat Kennedy said, 'The objection is unfair for the economic development - Arklow needs this. It will create an economic environment for other companies to come to Arklow. The cost of objecting to planning needs to be made prohibitive. Sometimes objectors don't even live in the county.'

'It is vital that this appeal is dealt with in a prompt manner,' Deputy Pat Casey said, adding, 'In as in my view this development is a perfect fit for the industrial site and a massive boost to the Arklow region.'

Echelon Data Centres Limited announced earlier this year that data centres in Arklow and Clondalkin in Dublin would create 1,100 jobs and when completed will provide 34 per cent of the country's storage capacity.

Wicklow People