Apple calls off plans for Athenry data centre project

10 May 2018

Apple storefront. Image: Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Apple’s planned €850m data centre in Athenry will not be built.

The epic tale of Apple’s Athenry data centre looks like it has finally come to a bitter end, as the company officially publicised its withdrawal from the project in a statement.

The newest in a litany of appeals around the plan had just recently been announced, with both the Supreme Court and EU Court of Justice slated for possible involvement.

Apple pulls out of plans

Apple said: “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.”

Apple stated that although the setback was a disappointment, it would not be a deterrent to it tabling new projects in Ireland in the future.

It also emphasised its large presence in the country and its generally good business relationship with Ireland. “In the last two years, we’ve spent over €550m 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.”

Government voices disappointment

Commenting on the news today (May 10), Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, TD, said: “I very much regret that Apple will not be pursuing its plans to construct a data centre in Athenry, 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.”

She stated that the Government and IDA Ireland did everything they could to support the project, engaging with the company at a high level both in Ireland and abroad. “Ultimately, in spite of these efforts, Apple have taken a commercial decision not to proceed, making it clear that the delays that beset this project caused them to reconsider their plans.”

CEO of IDA Ireland, Martin Shanahan, said: “It is disappointing albeit unsurprising that the company [Apple] has concluded that it will no longer engage in the process. Winning foreign direct investment is a competitive business. Ireland has been very successful over many years but we cannot take it for granted. We need to continually improve our competitiveness and responsiveness.”

Shanahan echoed Humphreys in the call for more efficient and concrete planning regulations. “As I said previously, we need a much higher degree of predictability in relation to our planning processes – not predictability about outcomes, but definitive timelines that are appropriate for the pace at which the commercial world works.”

Beset with delays

The delays and red tape around the project have caused difficulty in the Galway town between the objectors and Athenry residents lobbying for the build to go ahead. Humphreys said that the delays highlight the need for planning and legal processes to become much more efficient in future.

“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,” Humphreys noted.

A policy statement on the role of data centres in Ireland’s overall business strategy and legislative proposals around the designation of data centres as ‘strategic infrastructure’ are some of a number of steps to ensure this outcome is not repeated.

The project was first announced more than three years ago and had since been consistently plagued with delays and planning issues. The first stage of construction was to generate 300 temporary jobs, with up to 150 permanent staff needed to run it – 150 permanent jobs that many in Athenry had hoped for.

Objectors to the plans said that the environmental impact of the data centre had not been adequately assessed before permission had been initially granted.

Apple announced another data centre project around the same time as Athenry. The other facility, located in Viborg, Denmark, opened last year.

While many in the west of Ireland will be disappointed with the news, Humphreys pointed to the Government’s continuing focus on the area. “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.”

Apple storefront. Image: Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Updated, 10.52am and 12.07pm, 10 May 2018: This article was updated to include comments from IDA Ireland CEO Martin Shanahan and to clarify that the Viborg data centre opened last year.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects