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Meath County Council CEO explains support for Facebook’s Irish datacentre expansion plans

Jackie Maguire, CEO of Meath County Council, shares details of the preparatory work the local authority has done to pave the way for Facebook to expand its Irish datacentre presence

Meath County Council has shed some light on the steps it has taken to help Facebook and others avoid falling foul of the Irish planning system when building hyperscale datacentres in the area.

Facebook is currently completing the first phase of its datacentre in Clonee, County Meath, and will begin serving European users of its social networking apps – including Messenger and Instagram – from the site later this year.

According to Facebook, more than 1,500 workers have been involved in the build and have collectively carried out 4.3 million hours of work since the social networking site broke ground on the project in April 2016.

On 18 October this year, the company confirmed that a further 28,000m2 expansion of the site is being embarked upon, which will take the total floor space for the renewably-powered facility up to 86,000m2 by 2020.

“This expansion comes as more people around the world use Facebook apps and services every day, and as video becomes even more central to the way people connect and share with each other,” wrote Niall McEntegart, Facebook’s director of  datacentre operations for Emea and APAC, in a blog post.

“With this expansion, our Clonee datacentre will play an even more important role in making that possible – and the reliable workforce and support we have received from the community in Clonee and Ireland makes this possible.”

While Facebook faced some initial opposition to its plans to build a datacentre in Clonee, Meath County Council chiefs lobbied hard to get the social networking giant to site its server farm in the area.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Meath County Council CEO Jackie Maguire said the local authority has taken numerous steps to prevent Facebook’s datacentre construction plans suffering the same kind of delays as Apple has faced when trying to build its datacentre in Athenry, County Galway.

Progress on that project has ground to a halt since Apple first announced plans to build its datacentre in the county in February 2015, with objectors contesting the decision of the local council and third-party planning chiefs to grant permission for the project on environmental grounds.

Read more about Irish datacentre builds

Maguire outlined details of the preparatory work that has gone into easing the way for other datacentre operators to secure approval for their builds in County Meath. These include earmarking areas within the county as suitable sites for datacentres, with an emphasis on selecting sites where disruption to local residents can be minimised.

“Appropriate zoning objectives and policy guidance has been inserted into our land use plans to accommodate datacentre development,” said Maguire.

“Datacentres are land-hungry, and we have specifically identified large parcels of land where site assembly should not present huge difficulties which can delay progress. Suitable locations have been chosen having regard to power requirements, road networks, and so on.”

This “plan-led approach”, as Maguire termed it, has been central to the council’s success to date in securing datacentre investments from Facebook, as well as positioning the county as a place that is also open to business for other operators.

“The Apple site in Galway is not zoned for any specific use and is not the subject of any specific local objective,” she said. “It is in the Strategic Economic Corridor for Galway and that seems to be what got it over the line, planning policy-wise.”

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