The State's planning laws, particularly the ability of people, with no established links to an area, being able to make planning objections which impede development, must be changed, especially after reports have emerged that Apple is reconsidering its €850 million data centre in Athenry.
This is the view of Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish, who, in the Dáil yesterday afternoon, called on An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to reform and modernise the State's planning laws to ensure that multinational companies "looking at Apple’s experience in Galway" will not bypass Ireland in preference for state's with "progressive planning laws, where governments are doing everything possible to create inward investment".
Earlier this week, Independent Oranmore councillor Jim Cuddy, expressed similar views. He wrote to the Minister for Housing and Planning, Eoghan Murphy, outlining three areas of concern he believes are affecting planning across County Galway: people with no links to an area being able to make objections; the inability of people to secure planning in a sustainable manner in the countryside, if they have not grown up in the area; and the need for people to be informed personally, if their land is to be the subject of a change in zoning.
Their calls follow a report by Bloomberg that Apple is "losing patience" with the delay in granting planning permission for the proposed data centre - a delay which has now run for two and a half years - and is considering shelving the project. The Government has denied that Apple is losing commitment, with Independent Alliance TD Séan Canney saying: "Apple have expressed their concerns in the delays which is understandable but the bottom line is Apple are still committed to the project in Athenry."
However, in the Dáil, Dep Grealish noted, that Apple is concerned that even if the Commercial Court approves the application for the data centre in October, there could be "other objections down the line, further delaying the project".
He contrasted the situation in Ireland with that in Denmark. Apple announced plans for the Athenry and Danish plants at the same time, but "nearly three years on", the plant in Denmark is "set to be up and running before the end of the year, as per Apple’s projected schedule; while the plant in Athenry has not even secured planning permission".
Last month, Apple announced plans for a second data centre in Denmark. "There is a serious worry that the second Danish plant could be a replacement for the one planned for Galway," said the Carnmore based TD. "It is scheduled to begin operations in the second quarter of 2019."
Cllr Cuddy alleged that the delay was the result of "questionable objections" and said it was an example of "why people should not be able to lodge objections to planning applications which do not directly affect them". An article in The Irish Times noted: "We shouldn’t blame the handful of individuals who have sought a judicial review of the planning permission in the High Court (the source of much of the delay ). They are simply making use of the system as it stands...but any planning system that facilitates such egregious delays in making final decisions on major investment projects is clearly defective."
Dep Grealish said the delay was putting at risk the "hundreds of local jobs in construction and operation" and "opportunities for small local businesses and communities". He added that the situation would also prove damaging to the State's ability to attract multinational investment.
"Ireland is sending out a signal to other large multinational companies looking for a European base that planning in Ireland can be mired in delays and large infrastructural projects can be held up for years on the back of minor objections," he said. "The fear is, any multinational company looking at Apple’s experience in Galway, may not consider Ireland."
In the Dáil, Dep Grealish called on Taoiseach Varadkar "to give a commitment to this House" and to "multinational companies across the world" that Ireland’s planning laws will be changed to ensure a situation like that which exists with Apple in Athenry, "does not happen again".