PLANS to replace most of an underground pipeline between Hampshire and London have taken a step forward.

Esso has submitted its application to the government’s Planning Inspectorate, which has agreed to examine its proposal to upgrade a structure built almost half a century ago.

The company wants to replace 90km of the 105km aviation fuel pipeline that runs from Fawley refinery to a storage depot near London’s Heathrow Airport.

If permission is granted, the new section of pipeline will run from Boorley Green to Alton, passing beneath the South Downs National Park, before skirting Farnborough, Frimley Green and Shepperton.

Project executive Tim Sunderland said: “We are pleased our application for development consent has been accepted for examination by the Planning Inspectorate.

“We would encourage people to sign up on the Planning Inspectorate’s website to receive further updates about the project and to get involved in the upcoming examination phase.”

Last year the project came under fire from the South Downs National Park Authority, which said the scheme could damage woodland and historical sites.

At a meeting held to discuss the authority’s response to the proposals environment strategy officer Roni Craddock said: “There is potential for permanent damage to the national park.”

But Esso has highlighted the environmental benefits of the existing pipeline, saying it keeps 100 tankers off the road every day.

A consultation document says “Pipelines are a safe, secure and low impact method of transporting fuel to some of the UK’s busiest airports.

“Once installed, the replacement pipeline will be buried and would not be noticed by most people.”

Esso unveiled its plans 18 months ago.

The document says: “Since we began to talk publicly about our project in December 2017 we have carried out further technical work, held a series of public consultations and talked with landowners, residents and organisations to help us better understand views.”

Members of the public are invited to submit their views between June 26 until 23:59 on July 27.