Fears over battle for quarry near New Lanark world heritage site
Campaigners say they "fear the worst" over plans to extend a quarry closer to one of Scotland's few world heritage sites.
A Scottish government decision is due 'imminently' on the plans by Mexican multinational Cemex.
It wants to expand its current site into protected land close to the banks of the Falls of Clyde near New Lanark.
Thousands of people have written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urging the proposal be scrapped.
The battle over the extension has been raging since 2012 when Cemex first submitted its application to extend the existing Hyndford Quarry west towards the world heritage site at New Lanark - the place where Utopian idealist Robert Owen moulded a model industrial community in the early 19th Century.
Opponents also fear it will affect the Falls of Clyde, potentially destroying heritage and putting off tourists.
The initial application was passed by South Lanarkshire Council but was "called in" by Scottish government ministers and a public inquiry took place in 2014.
The Scottish government later refused planning consent for the western extension, which would extract three million tonnes of sand and gravel, but allowed further work at the south of the site.
Ministers went against the advice of their own Reporters when they said the eight-year life of the plans was "too long a temporary period of adverse disruption to the World Heritage Site's buffer zone, part of the Falls of Clyde Designed Landscape".
Quarry owners Cemex appealed against the ruling and the application was eventually referred once again to Reporters to make a recommendation.
Their advice was given to ministers in June but has not yet been made public.
Cemex said they would stay 200m from the Falls of Clyde reserve and carry out "progressive restoration" of the site during its lifecycle.
They said the site is a significant provider of high-quality sand and gravel aggregates to the construction industry.
However, campaigners insist the quarry would destroy a very important part of the area's heritage.
Mark Stephens, chairman of Save Our Landscapes, said: "It is local heritage that has international significance as the setting for the world heritage site.
"As Unesco says this is a 'vital part of the outstanding universal value of New Lanark'.
"For an area to be assessed as being of such a high importance, it really is scandalous that it should even be considered that it should be up for being destroyed."
Allison Galbraith, who runs guided walks in the Falls of Clyde area, said there were beautiful walkways that attracted tourists and Cemex wanted to "quarry right through it all".
"Tourists come from absolutely everywhere and they walk at the Falls of Clyde and New Lanark," she said.
"If they are staying for a few days they want to walk into the landscape and it is always a delight when you discover that this is the ancient drove road which was the main route to England and the ferry was here before Hyndford Bridge."
Sylvia Russell, chairwoman of Lanark Community Development Trust, said she was "totally against" the plans.
"It is going to destroy a beautiful landscape and it will also destroy some of our plans to increase tourism in the area because we want to extend walking trails," she said.
"The quarry is going to extend almost to the Falls of Clyde.
"As you are walking up the footpath to the falls you won't fail to hear the machinery digging away to extract the sand and gravel."
"It is beautiful countryside as part of the buffer zone for New Lanark."
Cemex, which employs 22 at the current site, said the quarry contributed about £3.5m per year to the local economy in salaries, contractors and rentals, haulage and business rates.
The company said: "Cemex believes the extension can be worked without unacceptable impacts on the local area, providing essential materials for the construction of local housing, schools, infrastructure and businesses."
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "The planning application for proposed development at Hyndford Quarry, New Lanark, is still under consideration and ministers will make every effort to issue their decision as soon as possible."
New Lanark is one of only six World Heritage sites in Scotland - the others being the island of St Kilda, Skara Brae in Orkney, the Roman Antonine Wall and Edinburgh's Old and New Towns and the Forth Bridge.