IDA to seek advance planning permission for future data centres

State agency has identified up to 24 sites for data centre investments around Ireland

An aerial view of the Apple data centre site at Athenry, Co Galway, that got the go-ahead recently after the Commercial Court backed An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant permission to build the €850 million facility.

An aerial view of the Apple data centre site at Athenry, Co Galway, that got the go-ahead recently after the Commercial Court backed An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant permission to build the €850 million facility.

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IDA Ireland may seek advance planning permission for future data centres to avoid disputes like the one that delayed Apple’s proposal for Athenry, Co Galway.

Objectors to the tech giant’s proposed €850 million Athenry development have until today to indicate if they want to appeal a Commercial Court ruling from last week throwing out several challenges to the two-year-old plan.

It is understood IDA Ireland could begin seeking planning permission for potential data centre sites it has identified around the State in a bid to prevent such delays in the future.

In February, the agency, which is charged with luring multinational companies to the Republic, hired Jacobs Engineering to identify up to 24 potential sites for data centres and to report back to it by the end of this year.

Sources say that once it has reviewed the engineers’ report, IDA Ireland may then seek to pursue advance planning permission for data centres on several of the sites that Jacobs identifies.

The move would allow it to present the sites as an entire package, complete with planning permission, to foreign investors, and to anticipate any objections or other difficulties.

Case-by-case assessment

An IDA spokesman said the agency would review the plan when it was completed and would assess whether advance planning was needed on a case-by-case basis.

“Part of making a particular site attractive for foreign investors is having a ‘speed to market’ advantage – and having a planning permission in place for a site in advance can make it much more attractive,” the spokesman said.

The identity of the 24 sites has not been revealed. But locations close to centres such as Dublin and Cork are likely to feature in the Jacobs report when it is completed. Others will be in rural areas.

A key feature for each data centre site is that it has to have necessary services, primarily electricity and broadband connections.

Increased use of internet servers to hold and manage information for companies or organisations means demand for data centres is growing.

IDA Ireland identified the need in the early years of the decade and set about about selling the Republic as a location for these facilities to multinationals.

Galway County Council gave Apple permission to build the data centre at Athenry in September 2015, but objectors appealed this to An Bord Pleanála.

When the planning appeals board turned down their appeal, they sought to have it reviewed by the Commercial Court, which ruled against them last Thursday.

The two-year wait caused concern to Apple, the IDA and local supporters of the project, who protested several days before the Commercial Court ruled on the matter last week.

Apple’s data centre in Athenry would create up to 300 jobs during construction and about 150 upon completion.

Apple got permission for a similar venture in Denmark around the same time as Galway allowed Athenry. The Scandinavian country’s data centre is now built and the tech company is planning to spend €800 million on a second facility in Denmark.

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