Calls for planning reform after Apple drops big Ireland data centre

Apple has abandoned plans to build an €850m data centre in Ireland over delays in the approval process, prompting calls to reform planning in the country.

Apple announced that the project would not go ahead on Thursday, 10 March, saying that despite its "best efforts, delays in the approval process have forced us to make other plans", reports The Irish Times.

The computing giant submitted plans for the centre in Athenry, Co Galway, in February 2015.

At the time it was to be Apple’s biggest European project.

"While disappointing, this setback will not dampen our enthusiasm for future projects in Ireland as our business continues to grow," the company said in a statement.

The scheme saw a number of challenges, including a successful application for a judicial review from two local residents concerned about the centre’s environmental impact.

The decision prompted Ireland’s Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, to call for reform.

She said the delays the project has faced have "if nothing else, underlined our need to make the State’s planning and legal processes more efficient".

"The Government has therefore already been working, over the last number of months, to make improvements to those processes. This will ensure we are better placed to take advantage of future such investment opportunities, whether from data centre providers or other sectors," the minister told the Times.

The Dublin chamber of commerce said the decision should be a "wake up call".

"As a country, we are at risk of becoming uncompetitive with other jurisdictions if we cannot improve the efficiency our planning process by making it speedier and less legalistic," said Dublin Chamber CEO Mary Rose Burke.

She said "third parties", who are not directly affected by a proposed scheme, have too much say under current rules.

In each of the past four years, between 50% and 60% of appeals received by An Bórd Pleanála were third party appeals to planning decisions, she said.

"These third party rights are almost unique to Ireland and are one of the main reasons for the slowness, waste and inefficiency of our planning process compared to other States," Burke said.

"By contrast, there is no third party right of appeal against planning decisions in most jurisdictions including in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Each of these jurisdictions have examined the idea of giving third parties a right of objection to planning decisions. However, in each case it was found to have been inefficient as well as undemocratic by advisory groups."

Image: Aerial view of St Mary’s Church in Athenry, Co Galway, the town where Apple was to locate its data centre (Conor Lawless/Creative Commons)

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