The Government intends to change the law to avoid delays with planning applications for data centres following the protracted controversy over the proposed €850-million Apple facility in Athenry.
The plans were revealed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in correspondence with Fine Gael TD for Galway West Hildegarde Naughton, who had made representations to government on the issue.
Mr Varadkar outlined plans to introduce legislation that would allow data-centre developments to be considered as “strategic infrastructure” for the purpose of the Planning and Development Act 2006.
This would allow planning applications in respect of such facilities to bypass local authorities and be made directly to An Bord Pleanála, streamlining the process for future applicants.
A civil justice review group chaired by Justice Peter Kelly will also consider issues relating to the management of courts business where important infrastructure projects are concerned. This is aimed at eliminating the types of delay that occurred in the Apple case.
Deputy Naughton welcomed the undertakings by the Taoiseach, and said she was confident that future applications pertaining to economically important developments would not be jeopardised by administrative delays.
“The Apple data centre is a hugely important development for both Athenry and the broader western region. It is also hoped that it will be the first of many such developments,” she said.
“But the delays that occurred in the course of the planning process and associated judicial processes were inordinate and threatened to jeopardise the development and the economic benefits that would go with it.
“It would also threaten to deter similar investment in the future unless comprehensive steps are now taken to ensure that the same sort of debacle cannot occur again,” added the Fine Gael TD.
She met with the Taoiseach to discuss the issue last month, and subsequently wrote to Mr Varadkar seeking measures to prevent a recurrence of the “excessive, inexcusable” delay, which was “a major concern in light of future inward investment”.
In response, the Taoiseach said that he shared Deputy Naughton’s frustration in relation to delays over the AthenryData Centre. “The data centre will be a significant investment for Athenry and for the west,” he wrote.
“The Government has agreed to a strengthened strategic policy approach to the continued development of data centres in Ireland as part of wider economic growth and balanced regional development.
“As part of this new policy approach, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is bringing forward an amendment to include data centre developments within the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure ) Act 2006, to treat data centres as strategic infrastructure,” the letter stated.
“In addition, Justice Peter Kelly is chairing a civil justice review group to reform the administration of civil justice in the State, which will include the consideration of issues relating to the management of courts business where the courts become involved in actions relating to infrastructure projects.
“I am confident this work will ensure delays are minimised in the future,” concluded the Taoiseach.
Deputy Naughton said that she was satisfied with the response, and hoped that the intended changes would send out a signal that Ireland and the west was “open for business” from prospective investors.