CIF’s Justin Molloy comments on Apple Data Centre delays and need for change to Ireland’s planning system

Justin Molloy, Regional Director, CIF Western & Midland Region outlines the necessary changes that must be made to our planning system to protect and safeguard secure investment into the future.

The function of our planning system is to regulate our built environment in the interests of the common good and in line with our planning legislation. Using a hierarchy of planning guidelines and policies, that have gone through a public consultation process, we produce a series of development plans and guidelines that determine what we build, where we build and in what timeframe we build.

A Development Plan sets out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of an area and consists of a written statement and a plan indicating the development objectives for the area over the life of the plan.

In order to encourage the development of our built environment, our planning process should provide a level of clarity and certainty for applicants wishing to invest in our built environment. Planning applications and planning appeals should be adjudicated on in a cost-effective, efficient and timely manner.


However, the delays encountered in the planning application and appeals process for the Apple Data Centre in Athenry clearly demonstrate that our planning system is not adjudicating on applications in a cost-effective, efficient and timely manner. This lack of clarity and delays in our planning system, compounded by the likelihood of Judicial Review, is causing reputational damage to Ireland’s image as a good place to invest.

While we all accept that we need a rigorous appeals process, we also need this process to be conducted in a timely fashion. We therefore need to introduce statutory timelines throughout our entire planning application and appeals process, such as the definitive timelines included in the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) applications, and we also need to examine the ease with which a Judicial Review can be secured.  Similarly, statutory time limits should be applied to condition compliance submissions.

The planning process should introduce a formal pre-application consultation process for Strategic Infrastructure Development (SID) projects, akin to SHD applications. This requires An Bord Pleanála to engage with applicants, the local Planning Authority and other Statutory consultees, on a formal statutory basis, as per the SHD process. The pre-application consultation should conclude when the Board has formed an opinion that documents, details, consultation and discussions undertaken on the project, constitute a reasonable basis for an application.

As a result of our planning legislation, the Apple data centre application was split into two planning applications, one was made to Galway County Council while the other was made directly to An Bord Pleanala under Strategic Infrastructure Development legislation. We should therefore amend our planning legislation to allow for all future large-scale projects to be applied for as one application under Strategic Infrastructure Development.

Justin Molloy is Regional Director, Western & Midland Region with the Construction Industry Federation (CIF)