Plans to extract 3 million tonnes of sand and gravel from a Kildare quarry have been approved by An Bord Pleanála, despite trenchant opposition from leading figures in the horse racing industry.

The manager of the Aga Khan's Irish horse breeding operation expressed his disappointment at the ruling in favour of the Kilsaran Concrete quarry.

Pat Downes said, "It is disappointing and it is a turnaround from what Kildare County Council had decided."

Eighty people are employed in the Aga Khan stud operation here and Mr Downes said, "Kildare has been promoted as the thoroughbred county in Ireland for very good reason so from that point of view, I am disappointed."

Retired jockey and broadcaster Ruby Walsh had also lodged an objection.

In total, 229 objections were lodged against the scheme and Kildare County Council refused planning permission for the proposal in November 2019 across several grounds resulting in Kilsaran Concrete lodging an appeal with An Bord Pleanala.

Along with objections from horse breeders led by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association (ITBA), local TDs, councillors, schools and residents also objected to the proposal for a 32 hectare site at Racefield, Ballyshannon, Kilcullen, Co Kildare.

In the objection on behalf of HH The Aga Khan’s Irish Studs, Mr Downes said the Aga Khan might decide to relocate stock to France should the application be granted.

He said the adverse impacts from the proposed quarry "would be very damaging".

The Aga Khan has four stud farms a short distance from the proposed quarry site. "Certainly for our business, it could result in a relocation of stock to France with the inevitable result of job losses".

In his objection, Ruby Walsh expressed concern for the health of his family and the sustainability of his equestrian business at Tippeenan House, Kilcullen if the quarry proceeds. "Investors in thoroughbreds will not want to have horses in such an area as this if the quarry starts."

However, the board has given the plan the green light after almost 18 months examining the application in spite of the recommendation by its own inspector in the case to refuse planning permission.

The appeals board’s inspector in the case recommended that planning be refused on two separate grounds.

The inspector's report recommended refusal after finding that the proposal, notwithstanding mitigation measures proposed, would seriously injure the amenities of properties in the vicinity by reason of traffic, noise, general disturbance and would depreciate the value of properties in the area.

However, the appeals board concluded that the proposal would not seriously injure the visual or residential amenities of the area and that it has not been demonstrated that the scheme would depreciate the value of properties in the area.

The board noted that the inspector had expressed satisfaction with the matters of air quality and visual impact.

The scheme involves the extraction of three million tonnes of sand and gravel over 12 years at a rate of 250,000 tonnes per year.

The site - currently leased to local farmers for use as pasture and arable lands - is located 8.8km southeast of Kildare town and Kilsaran Concrete stated that the need for the development is two fold.

Kilsaran Concrete stated that the primary rationale arises from the need for continuity of supply of aggregate materials by Kilsaran to meet the ongoing demands of the construction industry and secondly in response to the need to invest in public infrastructure set out in the National Development Plan.

In the appeal against the Council decision, the Co Meath headquartered Kilsaran Concrete - which is the country’s largest independent manufacturer of a range of concrete products - stated that the proposals will not have a negative impact on the nearby residents and therefore "will not have an impact on the equine industry".

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) states that there are 56 homes within 1km of the proposed extraction area while Ballyshannon National School is 1.5km from the site.

The EIS contended that the annual output of 250,000 tonnes "would be considered small in comparison to typical mineral extraction developments".

The EIS also stated that "mitigation measures will ensure that people and properties located in close proximity to the site will not experience significant long term adverse impacts during the proposed development".

CEO of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, Shane O’Dwyer said that the horse breeding industry employs 5,000 people in Co Kildare along with 10,000 associated jobs. "Our primary concern is the effect that the development may have on the respiratory tract of the horse who is an equine athlete," he said.

"There are substantial bloodstock breeding enterprises located in the area and each could significantly affected considering these operations are located within a 3km range of the proposed development.

"Breeders need to operate in a clean, green environment and our members contend that the development will severely affect breeding of thoroughbred horses."

The Kildare County Council planner’s report concluded that the proposed quarrying at this site "will have a significant adverse impact on the existing residential amenities of properties in the vicinity as well as general amenities of the wider area".

The report stated: "The establishment of a quarry on land currently used for agricultural purposes for decades in a rural community where there is no industrial activity will result in a significant change to the rural character of the area."