CIVIC chiefs have approved a £800m development at Fawley refinery - despite more than 100 objections to the scheme.

ExxonMobil has been the given the go-ahead to build a new plant which will safeguard the jobs of the 2,000 people employed at the huge petro-chemical complex.

The proposed development, which aims to reduce the UK's reliance on imported diesel, includes two 50-metre high chimneys.

Critics have raised fears about the scheme's potential impact on the environment, claiming it could result in fumes and "intolerable" noise.

But the application was approved by 15 votes to one at a meeting of the district council after gaining the backing of Fawley Parish Council and New Forest East MP Julian Lewis.

New Forest Post:

The new plant will boost the refinery's production of "ultra-low sulphur" diesel by almost 45% - about 38,000 barrels a day.

The fuel will be sent across the UK using an underground network of pipelines which will extend as far as Birmingham, plus Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Fears about poor air quality, coupled with the growing popularity of electric cars, has sparked claims that the government could ban diesel vehicles as early as 2030.

But the refinery's manager, Simon Downing, told councillors that transport fuels would continue to be an important part of the UK's economy for at least the next 20 years.

A report produced by council planning officers said the scheme's impact on air quality would be "minimal", with noise and vibration "within “acceptable limits".

It added: "The site is the largest oil refinery in the UK, providing approximately 20% of the refinery capacity, and plays an important role within the national and international economy.

"This proposal for significant investment brings significant benefits to the ongoing future of the refinery."

New Forest Post:

Councillors were lobbied by one of the objectors, Dr Sara Pascoe of the Bournemouth-based environmental group Save Our Shores.

In a letter to the council earlier this year the group said: "This is a proposal by a foreign multi-national corporation to use Fawley to generate more profits for them and their shareholders with no measurable benefits to the community.

"It will cause local and global harm in increasing fossil fuel manufacture when we are faced with a climate emergency."

But councillors said the scheme would protect the refinery.

Speaking after the meeting an Exxon Mobil spokesman said: "The proposed development will help secure future employment for 2,000 people on site and the many thousands more in the New Forest economy who serve the site and its workers.

"It would also have a positive impact on UK energy security.”