Apple Ditches Irish Data Center Following Planning Frustrations

Irish government's legal and planning processes spur Apple to canceldata center construction plan.

Apple’s decision to scrap its plans to build an €850 million data center in Athenry, in western Ireland, has raised questions about the country’s legal and planning processes. Apple had announced plans for the Athenry data center alongside plans for one of similar size in Viborg, Denmark, which sailed through the planning process and is set to open next year.

Apple, which insists it still has a great business relationship with Ireland, explained its decision in an announcement: “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 center.”

Chambers Ireland chief executive Ian Talbot, while supporting a rigorous planning process, cites protracted appeals as the chief reason behind Apple’s decision: “The primary issue here seems to have been the number of different sequential challenges, which it is possible to take in relation to a valid planning decision, and the time it takes for each to run its course. It is important to note that planning was not refused at any stage but that the time being taken to reach an ultimate conclusion to all the challenges was a significant factor in the decision not to proceed.”

The last thing Ireland needs is for foreign direct investors to think that delays of two or three years are the norm. Talbot sees Apple’s pullout as “a wake-up call that the pace of change in global technology requires a further modernization of Ireland’s planning process, to ensure that acceptable time frames are clearly established and that the appropriate organizations have the resources they need to carry out their responsibilities with alacrity.”

He believes reviews should outline the number of stages and type of appeals that can be raised. “The government has acknowledged the need for such a review and I expect to see progress on this very rapidly, particularly as Ireland plans to embark on a €115 billion capital investment plan over the next 10 years.”

Many people, including Anne Rabbitte, Fianna Fáil TD for Galway East, are critical of the Irish government’s reaction. Rabbitte published a detailed bill in October 2017 to fast-track planning decisions on key infrastructural projects, but says she is still waiting for the government to issue amendments to the planning act.

Talbot thinks the case will spur Ireland to make improvements to become an even greater candidate for FDI. “All our other positive advantages remain, and our post-Brexit position as the largest English speaking, Euro denominated member of the EU Single Market and Customs Union make us increasingly attractive,” he concludes.