PAUL MILLS: The ‘common good’ needs more of a voice in planning

There is no doubt that major industrial development projects require robust and accelerated approval processes.

I am sure that many of us will have been dismayed to read the news that the state-of-the-art, environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient data centre that was to be built in Athenry, Co Galway, has not even started construction as yet, despite being announced in February 2015.

However, another plant announced on the very same day for southern Denmark is already at an advanced stage of construction and is expected to be in operation soon.

It should, therefore, not really come as a surprise then to hear that Apple has now announced a second such facility for Denmark.

It has also announced that it will build a facility in China to address new rules there.

Yes, Apple has now stated it will spend in excess of another €800m on building a new data centre in Denmark which will also run entirely on renewable energy.

It said this centre will run Apple services such as, Apple App Store, iTunes Store, Siri, iMessage and Maps.

In fact, it’s been suggested that the second facility will be ready by the second quarter in 2019, and will be ready before the Irish one, assuming the Athenry data centre even gets out of the planning traps.

So why is the Irish facility so far behind?

Is it another case of the law in Ireland being so loose that it effectively allows anyone to stop projects from proceeding indefinitely?

Are we cutting off our proverbial nose to spite our face?

In February 2015, the project was announced. In 2016, Galway planning authorities gave permission for the project to proceed. So far, so good.

There were a few objections from locals and others living elsewhere in Ireland.

An Bord Pleanála also addressed the objections fairly quickly. So it appears those statutory bodies did as much as they could.

Clearly, some of the objectors were not happy with the decisions taken and decided to use the legal process to have their issues addressed.

Now that its project has been delayed by both planning delays and legal proceedings, it is reported that Apple, not surprisingly, has expressed its concerns to the relevant state agencies.

Some here have argued that this new announcement by Apple will cause alarm. That is not surprising either.

Its announcement on the new Danish facility has heightened concern here.

The Galway Chamber said it made a “detailed” submission in support of Apple’s plans at Athenry.

It said that 300 jobs would be created in the building of the data centre while 150 technical staff would be permanently employed when the centre was up and running.

In the not so dim and distant past, it seemed that an announcement of a new project would immediately bring out objectors to projects and some were lost unnecessarily.

This project is a major investment in the Irish economy.

It is located in a rural location hungry for the opportunity of high-quality and well-paying jobs.

It appears that the company is making every effort to ensure that the data centre is designed in such a way to blend in with its environment. It will tap renewable energy.

It appears that it is the type of project we want to attract to Ireland to get our country back on its feet in a sustainable fashion.

To many of us, it’s a real keeper, particularly the fact that it comes from Apple, a company that has been a mainstay of the economy for decades.

We recognise that individuals have the constitutional right to object or to appeal approvals to this or, indeed, to any other project.

After all, nobody wants a project or one that impacts on our economy or on our well-being.

However, the common good must also be addressed.

The Government had promised to fast track such major infrastructure projects. It does not appear to be working.

The wheels of planning approval and appeals need to be urgently speeded up so that the majority of our citizens can benefit from such projects.

It’s not good enough for the Government to sit back and wait for the law to move at its own speed.

It needs to put time limits on addressing these issues. They cannot be infinite.

Companies will go elsewhere if our approval processes are not expedited.

Now that France has joined the EU in going after companies such as Google because of it routing its sales through Ireland, an Irish location may well lose its attractiveness.


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