Tánaiste warns planning delays could hamper investment in west of Ireland

By Robert Kindregan and Mark Lynch

The state of Ireland’s current planning system could be an issue when it comes to attracting investment to the west of Ireland, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

The Tánaiste was speaking at the launch of the Regional Enterprise Plan for Galway, Mayo and Roscommon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology’s (GMIT) Castlebar campus yesterday.

The initiative aims to boost regional enterprise development across the three counties with an investment of up to €180m.

On launching the plan, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, said that although the country is attracting “record levels” of multinational investment, there are obstacles to bringing investment to the west of Ireland.

“I think it could be an issue [the planning system],” he said. “We are doing well in terms of investment, but we shouldn’t be sitting on our laurels and saying everything is fine, because it isn’t.”

“An issue as well can be planning delays. We saw what happened in Athenry, where the Apple investment there was largely lost due to judicial reviews.”

Video by Robert Kindregan and Mark Lynch

The tech giant Apple previously pulled out of building an €850 million data centre in Athenry, citing long delays through appeals and judicial reviews after it was originally granted planning permission by An Bórd Pleanála.

The application for the data centre is currently the subject of a High Court appeal, after the company sought, and was granted, an extension to its planning permission on the site until 2026 by Galway City Council.

“What we’re trying to do as a Government is reform the laws in that area, and to set statutory deadlines and making sure councils and An Bórd Pleanála make decisions within a prescribed time-frame,” he said.

“When it comes to judicial reviews, (we want) to make sure that they get heard by a dedicated planning court, with a judge who’s an expert in planning cases,” said Mr Varadkar.

The Tánaiste also said people who are taking a judicial review should “have genuine local standings”, and changes to the planning system will ensure they are not “somebody from three or five counties over, that are not really affected”.

More recently, it’s been widely reported that Galway will not be chosen as the site for a major microchip production facility by Intel.

It’s believed Intel will instead opt for Germany for the plant, due to concerns around the strain on Ireland’s current infrastructure, including housing and energy supply.

“We do know there are infrastructural constraints,” said the Tánaiste.

“There’s a lack of housing, we need a lot of investment in water and wastewater, through Irish Water in particular. In some parts of the country, the electricity grid isn’t as good as it should be.”

He said the Government is dealing with these issues “through record investment in public infrastructure through the National Development Plan, and that’s very much happening”.

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