A PLAN that has sparked thousands of letters of protest from residents in Hampshire and Dorset is moving closer to completion.

Hampshire County Council’s 20-year Minerals and Waste Plan provoked a furore in Verwood and Ringwood after a huge chunk of Moors Valley Country Park, called Purple Haze, was earmarked for gravel and sand extraction.

Residents said they had not been told about the plan in time to properly protest, and a group, the Friends of Ringwood Forest (FoRF), was hurriedly set up to fight it.

Now they say they are hoping for a last-minute reprieve for the site, after it seemed there may be confusion over whether the water table runs above or below the aggregates at Purple Haze.

Now, after an independent inspector held an inquiry into the draft plan, councillors are set to hear what changes are to be made.

However, plans to dig up 700,000 square metres of land at Purple Haze for aggregates, then fill in the hole with non-hazardous waste, are still in the plan.

The document points out that there may be difficulties operating the site due to “some development considerations which may restrict development in certain parts of their site allocations”.

But it says: “These areas have still been included within the site allocation areas as it will allow the Hampshire Authorities to have greater planning control over potential impacts on the restricted areas identified.”

Extraction at the site could start, the plan says, in 2018.

FoRF members spoke to the inspector during a two-week hearing in Winchester in June, where he examined all aspects of the minerals and waste plan for ‘soundness’.

On Monday, county councillors called to an extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet will be asked to consider changes to the draft plan made in response to the inspector’s recommendations.

Councillors will then have the opportunity to consider the issues at the full council meeting on September 20.

Subject to the agreement by the county council and the four other minerals and waste planning authorities in Hampshire, the schedule of changes will be published for public comment in October.

Chairman of FoRF Sarah Sumner said: “We’ve studied the changes to the draft, but that doesn’t paint the full picture of what the inspector has said to HCC, I think.

“It’s up to the inspector if he thinks that’s the only sustainable soft sand site available, so we’ll have to see what his report says when that comes out next year.

“If it does stay in the plan we might be waiting till 2016 for someone to put in for planning permission for Purple Haze, so we’ll be twiddling our fingers till then. We’re waiting with baited breath.”

Councillor Spencer Flower, leader of East Dorset District Council and local member for Verwood, said: “I hope the inspector has taken into account the differences of opinion between the potential contractor and the council, expressed at the hearing, regarding the water table and the exact location of the minerals at the Purple Haze site.

“At the hearing it became very clear that little exploratory work had been done to ensure that if mineral extraction were to take place that no damage would be done to the Ebblake Bog.

“I hope that the planning inspector and Natural England will now insist on the precautionary principle being applied whereby if it cannot be proven that there will be no harm to Ebblake Bog that extraction should not take place and that Purple Haze be struck from the plan.”

A copy of the draft changes are at consult.hants.gov.uk/file/2297277 .