Plans to extract 3 million tonnes of sand and gravel from a Kildare quarry, which have been objected to by the Aga Khan and leading members of the horse racing industry, have been approved by An Bord Pleanála.
More than 200 objections were lodged against the plans by Kilsaran Concrete for a quarry at Racefield, Ballyshannon, which was rejected, too, by Kildare County Council.
However, An Bord Pleanála has given the plan the green light after almost 18 months examining the application, even though its own inspector recommended that it be refused.
The inspector had found that the quarry would seriously injure properties near and around Ballyshannon because of traffic, noise, general disturbance, and would cut property values.
However, An Bord Pleanála ruled that it would not seriously damage visual or residential amenities in the area, and claims that property values would be hit were not demonstrated, it said.
In its ruling, the planning board noted that the inspector had expressed satisfaction that the extraction of 3 million tonnes of sand and gravel would not damage local air quality.
Kildare County Council had refused planning permission for the proposal in November 2019 across several grounds resulting in Kilsaran Concrete lodging an appeal with An Bord Pleanála.
The objections to the quarry had come from the Aga Khan, jockey Ruby Walsh, along with horse breeders led by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association (ITBA).
Relocation of horses
Local Kildare TDs, councillors, schools and nearby residents also objected to the proposal to take 250,000 tonnes of sand and gravel over 12 years from the 32 hectare Racefield lands.
Speaking on behalf of HH The Aga Khan, the manager of his Irish operation, Pat Downes raised the prospect that the Aga Khan would relocate stallions and mares to France, hitting local employment.
The Aga Khan has two stud farms to the east of Racefield, and another two a short distance to the north. The creation of a quarry so close to them “would be very damaging”,” he said.
Jockey 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.
The retired jockey and now broadcaster, in his objection to An Bord Pleanála, stated: “Investors in thoroughbreds will not want to have horses in such an area as this if the quarry starts.”
The site – currently leased to local farmers for use as pasture and arable lands - is located 8.8km southeast of Kildare town
Explaining the need for the quarry, Kilsaran Concrete said it needs guaranteed sources of supply to meet the demands of construction industry, along with the demands created by the National Development Plan.
In its appeal to An Bord Pleanála against Kildare County Council’s decision, Kilsaran said the proposals would not negatively impact on nearby residents, or the horse industry.
The company-supply 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 250,000 tonnes-a-year extraction “would be considered small” by comparison with other quarries, while “mitigation measures” would ensure that local residents would not “ experience significant long term adverse impacts”.
Mr Downes stated that here are over 160 stud farms and training establishments in the county.
‘Significant adverse impact’
Saying that 5,000 people are employed in horse breeding in Kildare, the chief executive of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, Shane O’Dwyer warned of the dangers the quarry will pose.
“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, adding that substantial operations lie with 3km of the quarry.
“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.”