Apple pulls Athenry data centre

Apple Athenry
Apple's proposed Athenry data centre (Image: Apple)

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10 May 2018 | 0

Apple has released a statement confirming that it will not go ahead with the planned Athenry data centre.

Mired in planning appeals, the data centre announced in 2015 was part of a €1.7 billion investment in data centre infrastructure in Europe.

A Danish facility, which was part of the same plan, is now up and running, with a second facility also planned.

The announcement, while a severe blow for the area and the country, was not unexpected.

In 2016, when an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar travelled to Cupertino to meet CEO Tim Cook, there was a noticeable absence of confirmation of the plan for the project. This was seized upon by many at the time as the death knell for the project.

Best efforts
Now, the statement says, despite best efforts, it cannot go ahead.

“We’ve been operating in Ireland since 1980,” said the Apple statement, “and we’re proud of the many contributions we make to the economy and job creation. In the last two years we’ve spent over €550 million with local companies and, all told, our investment and innovation supports more than 25,000 jobs up and down the country.”

“We’re deeply committed to our employees and customers in Ireland and are expanding our operations in Cork, with a new facility for our talented team there.”

“Several years ago we applied to build a data centre at Athenry. Despite our best efforts, delays in the approval process have forced us to make other plans and we will not be able to move forward with the data centre.

“While disappointing, this setback will not dampen our enthusiasm for future projects in Ireland as our business continues to grow.”

This is particularly disappointing, as just this week, Google broke ground on a €150 million expansion of its Grange Castle South facility, along with a Copenhagen Economics study that showed that data centres contribute both directly and indirectly to the economy of the countries where they are sited.

Calls for change
Unsurprisingly, the announcement has led to many calls from both industry and politics for a revision of planning laws to avoid such delays in the future.

“I very much regret that Apple will not be pursuing its plans to construct a data centre in Athenry,” said Heather Humphreys TD, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, “especially as the project would have been a source of significant investment and job creation for Galway and the West of Ireland. Notwithstanding this bad news, I welcome that Apple have confirmed that they are strongly committed to their existing operations in Ireland.”

“The Government, together with IDA Ireland, did everything it could to support this investment. This included high-level engagement with the company, both at home and abroad. Ultimately, in spite of these efforts, Apple has taken a commercial decision not to proceed, making it clear that the delays that beset this project caused them to reconsider their plans,” said the minister.

“These delays 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.”

Specific measures
The minster said that specific measures would be taken to the planning process, such as designating data centres as “strategic infrastructure”, meaning that future data centre-related planning applications can move more swiftly through the planning process. The amendment to the Planning Act will be tabled in Seanad Report Stage deliberations on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, which are expected to take place in early June 2018. It is expected that the changes will be enacted by the end of the current Dáil session.

The minister also said the Government has recognised that need to streamline judicial review of strategic infrastructure projects. She said a package of measures is underway that will provide greater certainty on the timeframe for judicial review decisions on planning and other consent processes.

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is reviewing the operation of the Strategic Infrastructure Act to determine if further changes are necessary in light of experience and informed by the Expert Group Review of An Bord Pleanála.

Minister Humphreys also pointed out that new accelerated judicial review procedures for strategic infrastructure developments and related consents were put in place by way of a Practice Direction from Justice Peter Kelly, President of the High Court, in February this year. Justice Kelly is also chairing a Review of the Administration of Civil Justice and the Minister for Justice and Equality has written to him with a number of further suggestions for consideration by the Group in relation to judicial review of infrastructure projects.

The importance of data centres to Ireland, particularly given the country’s reputation as a leading location for digital economy companies, and the potential for development in regional locations is also recognised in Project Ireland 2040, said the minister, which makes clear that the promotion of Ireland as a sustainable international destination for ICT infrastructure is a key national objective.

‘Very disappointing’
“There is no disputing that Apple’s decision is very disappointing, particularly for Athenry and the West of Ireland. The fact remains, however, that Ireland continues to attract record levels of foreign direct investment (FDI). 2017 was a record year for FDI in Ireland and we expect further strong investment and employment gains in 2018,” said Minister Humphreys.

“Regional investment is a particular priority for the Government and for the IDA. The West – comprising Galway, Mayo and Roscommon – has performed strongly in recent years, with a total of 101 IDA companies located there, employing over 23,000 people. Galway, in particular, has shown impressive FDI-driven employment growth since 2011. We remain confident that Galway will continue to be very attractive to investors.”

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