BOSSES at Swinden Quarry showed they were committed to keeping their promises this week with the completion of the first stage of a £16 million project to transform operations and improve its impact on the local landscape.

At an open day on Tuesday, local residents, councillors, past and present quarry staff and Tarmac bosses celebrated the completion of stage one of the project and the recommissioning of Swinden Quarry.

For the last decade, the quarry between Threshfield and Cracoe has been the subject of intense controversy.

In the early nineties the quarry was an ugly eyesore on the local landscape with plant equipment visible for miles around and emissions of white dust across the local countryside commonplace.

There was also a problem with the amount of traffic the quarry generated with local residents having to bear an unremitting rumble of trucks, laden with aggregate, passing through their villages on the way to Tarmac's processing facilities in Leeds and Hull.

In March 1995, the situation came to a head when Tarmac, which is part of Anglo-American plc, submitted a controversial planning application that asked for permission to extract a further 40 million tonnes of aggregate from the quarry by digging down a further 100 metres.

Despite the application being produced with the input of the national park's quarry liaison working group and local people via Tarmac's Local Liaison Group, it stirred up strong opposition from the environmental lobby and split the village of Cracoe and members of the planning committee.

Planning approval was finally given by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority on the casting vote of chairman Robert Heseltine.

But this decision went against the advice of officers who claimed the application contravened park policy in terms of environmental impact and would lead to an increase in traffic.

As part of the planning conditions Tarmac promised that quarrying at Swinden would cease in the year 2020 and guaranteed restoration of the hillside.

In addition, it said it would provide half a million pounds to turn the site into a nature reserve once quarrying ceased.

And after three years consultation, research and planning, work started in 1998 with activity focusing on three areas.

The first goal was to tackle the visual impact of the quarry and the multi-million pound project saw Tarmac removing all visible processing equipment, including the manufacturing plant, lime kilns and bagging sheds.

This was replaced with new energy-efficient and environmentally friendly plant - including the world's largest tracked mobile crushing unit.

Instead of locating these new facilities on the quarry's exterior, they were sited on the quarry floor resulting in the quarry's apparent disappearance from the landscape.

A programme of full restoration work was then undertaken to ensure that the exterior of the quarry would not show up as a scar on the hillside.

Terry Last, managing director at Tarmac Northern Ltd said: "This radical step, coupled with extensive land forming, landscaping and planting work, means that the quarry blends seamlessly into the surrounding countryside."

Investment was also channelled into improving rail capability and capacity and as a result, around 1,000 truck journeys every day have been eliminated.

Over the next 17 years, the remaining lifespan of the quarry, more and more areas will be restored as they come to an end of their working lives.

But, come 2020, the most ambitious phase of Tarmac's project will be implemented with the creation of a lake across the existing quarry floor.

The entire site will become a nature reserve that Tarmac plans to donate to a conservation group, along with half a million pounds to keep up its maintenance in perpetuity.

Robbie Robertson, CEO of Tarmac, said: "This project sets a world class benchmark in quarry management and restoration.

"We know that we'll be judged in the future by our actions now - it's our responsibility, not our choice, to invest in the environment, so that future generations can benefit from our activities."

Tony Trahar, chief executive of Anglo-American, added: "We are extremely proud of our achievements at Swinden, which reflect the company's increasing commitment to support both the communities in which it operates and the environment.

Gordon Jackson, chairman of Cracoe Parish Meeting said: "Living next to a quarry is a mixed blessing - we benefit from much-needed local jobs, but there have always been drawbacks, including the impact on the landscape, as well as the dust and traffic.

"The work Tarmac has recently completed is outstanding. It shows a real commitment to improving our locality, both now and for the future.

" Where we once saw an ugly scar, and all the dusty quarry workings, there is now a grassy hillside with trees and wildlife.

"What is most impressive, though, is the involvement that we've had in every stage of the project - as a community we've been consulted and our voices listened to and acted upon."

Dave Parrish, minerals and waste planning officer for the national park authority said: "For decades the land and resources at Swinden Quarry have been used for quarrying.

"Returning the site back to nature is the right step forward for the environment and bio-diversity, as well as for residents and visitors to the Yorkshire Dales."