A HUGE dome containing 30,000 tonnes of salt is to be built in the Hampshire countryside to help keep the roads safe during icy weather.

The massive structure – more than 70ft tall and almost 140ft wide – will occupy part of a Highways Agency site next to the M27 at Ower.

The dome will be visible from miles around and critics claim it will be a blot on the landscape.

But council chiefs have approved the application, saying the need to keep roads open and safe outweighed the requirement to protect the landscape.

Salt stored in the dome will be used to treat routes across Hampshire and six other counties.

The Highways Agency says the scheme will reduce the need to stockpile huge amounts of salt at Southampton Docks.

Its application to redevelop part of a compound next to junction 2 of the M27 was given the go-ahead at yesterday’s meeting of New Forest District Council’s planning committee, despite strong objections from several members.

Councillor Diane Andrews said: “Junction 2 is the main route from the motorway down to Beaulieu and that area – in many ways it’s the entrance to the New Forest.

“This is going to be monstrous.”

Councillor Sue Bennison said: “It’s a huge building that will tower over the tiny structures already on the site – and it’s close to the New Forest National Park boundary.”

But other members of the committee supported the application.

Councillor Maureen Holding said: “The site currently contains a mishmash of buildings and I don’t think this will be a lot worse.

“It’s just a different shape.

“When you look at the number of accidents on the roads in the winter it’s definitely needed.”

Other supporters described the proposed development as a “necessary evil” and even a national asset.

Councillor Steve Rippon-Swaine said: “We have to think of the overall good, rather than the immediate locality. Soft landscaping can be used to break up the visual impact of the dome.”

The committee heard from Jasper Buxton, representing Netley Marsh Parish Council, who said the proposed development would be a blot on the landscape.

He added: “It will be highly visible to people entering the New Forest and will damage our beautiful landscape, of which we’re the custodians.”

But the application was approved by 13 votes to six.

The dome, expected to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, is due to be built before next winter.