PARISH councillors have backed an £800m new diesel plant at Fawley oil refinery to help safeguard the future of more than 2,000 jobs.
The proposal submitted by petrochemicals giant ExxonMobil to New Forest District Council has provoked 82 objections against just six in support.
But at a special meeting on Monday night, Fawley Parish Council gave the major project its backing on condition the plant obeyed government regulations.
As reported in the A&T, ExxonMobil says the two new units – each with a 50-metre chimney – will create ultra-low sulphur diesel and make the UK more fuel and energy self-reliant.
Its case was put in person by refinery manager Simon Downing who stressed the benefits for the local economy and its “strategic importance” to the country as a whole. He added there were six similar units there already.
Mr Downing told councillors: “In summary, if approved, this project will help secure future employment for 2,000 people on site and many more in the local community who serve the site.
“In environmental terms, the refinery operates well within its regulations, and the performance of the new units will be equal to, or better than, our existing units – and almost certainly better performing than many of those overseas refineries that currently supply a significant proportion of the diesel used in the UK.
“Producing the UK demand on site also helps cut transport emissions by reducing the number of ship movements.
“In other words, this project is good news for all those living locally who work at the refinery, for the local community and for the UK as a whole.”
However, he faced objections from Bournemouth group environmental Save Our Shores (SOS) who opposed the principle of fossil fuels and feared the impact of emissions on the local area.
SOS member Sarah Pascoe told the A&T: “We do not have any choice to ramp down fossil fuel production. They say that there will be a continual demand for diesel in the future but we’re not so confident about that as the government has given a time to stop fossil fuel cars.
“Fawley is a company town. The area and the corporation have had a very good relationship for many years. But we ourselves are stepping into the fray to try to push the iceberg of fossil fuel dependency.”
She also wanted reassurances that the new plant would not add to the total amount of diesel coming out of the refinery.
An ExxonMobil spokesperson told the A&T the overall production would not change significantly, with the current high-sulphur product being substituted for the ultra-low version.
After the meeting, parish council chair Cllr Alan Alvey said: “The parish council decided to recommend approval subject to conditions on meeting the necessary environmental standards.
“The parish council is supportive of it because of the employment. Fawley and Holbury and Blackfield are very dependent for jobs on the refinery, so we are keen to keep it.
“The evidence I have had in the past is that the refinery is complying with those [environmental] requirements.”
The project, which also has the backing of New Forest East MP Julian Lewis, is set to be decided by NFDC by mid-August.