Friday a big day for Apple’s Athenry plan

Cantillon: For economic development west of the Shannon, stakes have rarely been higher

The Athenry business community rallied behind Apple, and tensions over the issue remain high in the town

The Athenry business community rallied behind Apple, and tensions over the issue remain high in the town

 

Apple should find out on Friday whether it can begin ploughing the fields of Athenry for its proposed new €850 million data centre, which is stuck in the mud following a number of planning objections.

For economic development west of the river Shannon, the stakes have rarely been higher.

The data centre is proposed for a site on the outskirts of the town, set within a Coillte forest a few hundred yards from the road, across a few of the Galway town’s celebrated fields.

It would be the single biggest private sector investment in Connacht, a potentially massive economic calling card for Athenry which sparked feverish excitement in the town when it was announced in February 2015.

At the same time as the Athenry data centre was announced, Apple announced a similar investment in Denmark. Almost 2½ years on, the Danish facility is almost finished while the proposed Irish one has yet to receive the green light.

Galway planners gave their imprimatur relatively quickly, before a handful of objectors took it to An Bord Pleanála. After a series of public hearings in Galway, the board gave its approval in August last year.

Three objectors – a local engineer with environmental concerns, a local solicitor who lives near the site, and a Wicklow landowner who once offered his own site for data centre development – then took to the High Court seeking a judicial review of the Bord Pleanála decision.

The Athenry business community rallied behind the company, and tensions over the issue remain high in the town. Apple asked the court to fast-track the process, and Mr Justice Paul McDermott reserved his judgment in March. On Friday it is up for mention, and the expectation is that the judge will give his verdict.

The majority of the people of Athenry want this development to go ahead – the public shows of support prove as much.

Yet citizens of this country also have a right to seek a judicial review of any planning decision they so wish. It is a part of our planning process, and that process must be respected.

On Friday all eyes in Athenry will look towards Dublin.

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