LARGE swathes of countryside will be destroyed by a plan earmarking sites for gravel and mineral extraction, county council chiefs were warned.

The ruling Cabinet yesterday approved changes to the 20-year draft Minerals and Waste Plan which sparked nearly 2,000 letters of protest.

But there was no last-minute reprieve for Hamble or a large chunk of Moors Valley Country Park, called Purple Haze, near Ringwood .

Under the plan, up to 200,000 tonnes of gravel per year could still be extracted from the former Hamble Airfield and 700,000 sq m of land dug up at Purple Haze.

The changes were in response to recommendations from a Government- appointed planning inspector who held a public inquiry into the plan.

However, most were minor and no sites major sites were ruled out.

Campaigners battling to protect Hamble and Purple Haze had spoken at a two-week hearing in Winchester last June when planning inspector Andrew Freeman had examined the minerals and waste plan for “soundness”.

Concerns included loss of green space, damage to environmentally sensitive areas, noise, dust and extra lorry movements.

Councillor Keith House , leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on the county council, said: “These two sites are fundamental to the plan which is why technically it may be sound but it does not meet the needs of the people of Hampshire because it is environmental destruction.”

Councillor House, who is also leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, also claimed a policy which allowed unallocated sites to be considered for development if there was a shortfall in supply was a “blank cheque for every other site that has been discarded to be opened up”.

However, there was relief for campaigners battling to protect a farm site at Shootash, near Romsey , from gravel extraction as it is still excluded despite calls by Raymond Minerals Brown Recycling Ltd for the site to be put back on the list.

Meanwhile, changes included moving the area earmarked for the supply of brick-making clay at Michelmersh Brickworks to include School House Field and Hillside Field.

environment boss Councillor Mel Kendal said the aim was to produce 1.6 million tonnes of aggregates per year – “considerably less” than recommended by the South East Plan (2.6 million tonnes) which the Government plans to revoke.

He stressed developers would still have to obtain planning permission before sites could be developed.

Eastleigh Borough Council , campaigners from RAGE (Residents Against Gravel Extraction), Bursledon and Hound Parish Councils opposed the proposed site at Hamble.