The foundations for having the former Asahi site in Killala designated as a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ ) were laid at a meeting of Mayo County Council on Monday last.
The elected members backed a proposal to request the government to designate the site as an SDZ under section 166 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
An SDZ is a planning designation that is sometimes used to designate a bank of land for specific purpose, including industrial use. In the development of the SDZ, a lot of pre-planning work is done in advance of the designation, including engagement with An Bord Pleanala and extensive public consultation.
The result, once the site is designated, is that planning applications for projects that are very closely aligned with the objectives of the SDZ can be granted very quickly, without any appeal mechanism.
For the Asahi site, this would result in a land bank that would become very attractive to industry, which could be certain that projects would be granted planing permission.
The issue had been originally raised by Fine Gael Cllr Jarlath Munnelly at a Ballina Municipal District meeting, where it was given the backing to go before the full council this week, where once again it received cross party support.
Speaking on the issue at Monday's meeting, Cllr Munnelly outlined the particular assets that the site contains, including connectivity to the national electricity grid, the location of the transatlantic optical fibre landing station on the site, as well as connection to water and sewerage facilities.
He also highlighted the projects in development on or near the site that are going to generate renewable electricity, which will be a big advantage to the site.
Outlining site requirements for SDZ status, he said: "To be designated as an SDZ, the site must be of strategic national importance. I believe there isn't another site in the country that contains the specific assets that the former Asahi site does."
Speaking about its potential, Mayo County Council chief executive Peter Hynes stated: "It is one of the biggest land holdings we have and one of the most strategically important - if not they most. It is not for nothing that we have spent as much time, energy and effort to get that fibreoptic cable to come on shore in Mayo and in Killala. Killala with the power connections in and out of the site already in place, is an absolute dead ringer for data centres and we are in very detailed discussions with a number of possible developers on that front and hopefully, in the next 12 to 24 months, we will see real progress.
He concluded: "On zoning for the site, we can make the application and will. I don't think it will be an easy or quick answer - it will be a slow burner, but at does not mean it should not be lit and started and we will take the process forward."