Fast-track process would ensure no repeat of Apple delay

A Galway Fianna Fáil TD has this week published a Bill aimed at fast-tracking the planning process for major information technology (IT) projects, similar to the Apple plan for Athenry, that has been dogged by objections for the past two years.

Anne Rabbitte told the Connacht Tribune that her Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Amendment Bill was aimed at preventing similar centres to Apple ‘backing away’ from coming to the West of Ireland.

She said that there were at least seven other major data centre projects that could be coming to Ireland – and possibly the western region – who were now ‘holding fire’ pending the latest legal challenge to the Apple project in Athenry.

“We now are a region here in the West where the infrastructure has really improved in terms of access and the latest motorway development.

“But will companies be put off from coming here because of serial objectors to projects? We are facing competition for these IT centre from many parts of the world – we just have to, get the message out there, that we want you to come here,” said Deputy Rabbitte.

Under her Bill – that she will seek leave to introduce today (Thursday) – the planning applications for such IT projects would go directly to An Bord Pleanála, with just a 21-day window of appeal after a decision has issued.

“I think that there is an appetite across the parties in the Oireachtas for a change in the law that will ensure that the planning process is fast-tracked for such major information technology projects that can help sustain the vibrancy of rural regions and communities.

“I hope to get Private Members Time over the coming weeks to speak on the Bill and I feel that given the economic urgency of this situation, that we should be in a position to change the law before Christmas,” said Deputy Rabbitte.

She added, that in an increasingly competitive global environment, Ireland was one of many countries seeking to secure high quality job investment by major international companies.

“This €850m Apple centre for Athenry is a fantastic project, which will be fully powered by renewable energy and provide 300 jobs in construction and at least a hundred full-time jobs when the facility becomes operational.

“Ireland needs to send out a clear message to foreign direct investors that we are open for business. Planning laws must not deter potential investors from Irish shores.

“This Bill seeks to accelerate the planning approval process for such critical projects that will bring social, economic and environmental benefits to communities across Ireland,” said Anne Rabbitte.

Earlier this month, the Commercial Court, upheld a decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant permission for the Apple centre in Athenry but in the aftermath of that, two local residents – Allan Daly and Sinéad Fitzpatrick – confirmed that they were seeking leave to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court. Brian McDonagh, with an address of a business park in Dublin, had also objected to the Apple development.

The Apple project got the first planning go-ahead from Galway Co. Council in September, 2015, and the second approval (after an appeal) by An Bord Pleanála in August 2016, followed by the Commercial Court validation earlier this month.