Government working to fast-track planning process following Apple saga

The Government is aiming to re-classify data centres as pieces of “strategic infrastructure”

Government working to fast-track planning process following Apple saga

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar chats with Apple CEO Tim Cook in San Francisco, 03-11-2017. Image: Leo Varadkar/Twitter

The government is scrambling to fast-track the planning process for major projects following the saga over Apple’s €850m data centre in Athenry.

The company’s CEO Tim Cook told the Taoiseach he was shelving the plans during a meeting in San Francisco during the week.

The decision comes as a blow after the High Court cleared the way for the centre to go ahead - following lengthy legal efforts to block it on environmental grounds. 

The loss of the project – along with the hundreds of jobs it would have brought to the Galway town – has led to fears Ireland could lose further multi-national investment.

A similar project in Denmark, originally announced alongside the Galway plans, will be up and running by the end of the year.

Kevin Doyle, Group Political Editor with Independent News and Media was with Leo Varadkar in San Francisco, where he met with the Apple CEO:

“The intimation from them was that it is not happening now,” he said.

“The time has moved on, they could not wait any longer and their focus shifted to Denmark where the planning application process seemed to work a lot quicker than it did in Ireland.

“Apple effectively said, ‘we still own the site in Athenry; we might do something with it in the future but it is not going to be this €850m investment that we had planned all along.’”

Strategic infrastructure

Mr Varadkar has already indicated that the Government will look to re-classify data centres as pieces of “strategic infrastructure” - thus speeding up the planning process for major projects:

“I think that will happen very, very quickly now on the back of this because €850m is a huge investment to lose,” Mr Doyle.

“I think they will want to reassure not just Apple but other companies that might be thinking about investing in data centres in Ireland that there won’t be a repeat of this.”

Planning saga

Apple was given the go-ahead to proceed with the development by Galway County Council in February 2015.

That decision was re-affirmed by An Bord Pleanála in August 2016 – however the project was delayed by a judicial review undertaken by objectors to the project.

That review was eventually rejected – with the objectors this week refused permission to take the case to the Court of Appeal.