For more than 30 years a debate has been raging from the high-powered boardrooms of ABP to the parlours of the properties in Dibden Purlieu - what is to become of Dibden Bay?

What followed has included several planning ideas, the formation of a formidable pressure group, union support, council condemnation and, finally, the intervention of the government which has given its final ruling on the decision.

Dibden Bay is a battlefield no longer.

The campaigning, the protests and the legal fights are over but the battle scars and bitterness will be with us for very many years more.

Why does Associated British Ports (ABP) want to build the Dibden Terminal?

Southampton is the UK's main deep-sea port for the south coast. Its deep-water channel, road and rail links make Southampton the port of choice for many ship operators but the city's docks are running out of space.

To deal with this shortage of capacity, and to retain Southampton's long-standing international reputation as a maritime community, ABP sought consent for an expansion to the port's container handling operation on reclaimed land at Dibden Bay.

ABP has always maintained that this is a project which is firmly in the national interest. Competition is at the heart of the government's economic and ports policies and a failure to expand Southampton would have led to over-concentration of activity on the east coast.

Ports are an international industry. No other port in the world, including any of Southampton's direct competitors on the European mainland, is resting on its laurels.

Southampton must grow to remain successful and to meet the requirements of the next generation of large vessels.

What will Dibden Terminal do?

Dibden Terminal will handle up to 2.34 million "twenty-foot-equivalent units'' (TEU) of import/export containerised freight every year. The terminal may also be used for the import of aggregates, for roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) cargo, including the output from many of the UK's car factories, and other lift-on/lift-off shipments.

Feeder and coastal vessels will enable freight to be transhipped to and from smaller ports in the UK and Europe. Great Britain will capture the value of this lucrative trade, which would otherwise have been diverted to major continental ports.

How big will Dibden Terminal be?

The operational area will occupy about 202 hectares, equivalent to just under 500 acres. The terminal is planned to have 1,850 metres of deepwater berths, effectively six berths, operating on a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year basis. Once fully operational the terminal is expected to provide 1,800 full-time jobs and several thousand indirect jobs.

When could Dibden Terminal be open for business?

A public inquiry considered three elements of the project, Harbour Revision Order, Transport and Works Act Order and Planning Permission, throughout 2002. The first berths could be operational as soon as 2006/2007.

How will Dibden Terminal be paid for?

ABP is to fund the entire Dibden project. The group will also make a substantial contribution towards improvements to shoreside infrastructure, in particular the A326 trunk road and the connection to the national rail network. In addition, ABP says it is to fund the construction, management and monitoring of environmental measures.

What environmental measures are proposed?

ABP's Dibden site totals 387 hectares, more than 900 acres, and 185 hectares - 457 acres - will be for environmental use.

A tidal inlet, the Creek, approximately 1,500 metres long, is to be constructed around the southern and western edges of the terminal.

The Creek will provide new habitats, in particular for birds. Church Farm Nature Conservation Area will be integrated with the Creek, creating an area of 137 hectares - nearly 340 acres - of wetlands, drier grasslands and woodland.

Th existing bund between the Dibden reclaim area and Hythe Marina is to be reconfigured while extensive landscaping, noise reduction and light pollution avoidance measures are included in the design of the terminal.

What road improvements are needed?

ABP's planning application included improvements to the A236. During the public inquiry an agreement was reached between ABP and Hampshire County Council on these works, and as a result the local authority withdrew its objection to the road improvements proposal.

The Highways Agency, responsible for the trunk road network in England, wrote to Hampshire County Council saying that it was "content that the development will not have a material effect on the trunk road network. The agency does not, therefore, wish to restrict grant of consent on this occasion.''

What rail improvements are needed?

Southampton was designed as a railway port and is the market leader for the movement of containers by train.

A new track will connect Dibden to the Fawley branch line via a new junction. The railhead will have up to 16 sidings capable of handling 775-metre-long trains.

Once fully operational, Dibden will handle about 24 trains in and out a day, equivalent to one train in each direction every hour.

What does government policy say about ports?

The present government's policy was set out in a document entitled Modern Ports: A UK Policy published in November, 2000. ABP has always contended that Dibden is fully consistent with this strategy, and with the government's objectives for sustainable development.

Modern Ports recognises that the UK economy depends on international trade, and that ports must be able to handle its development. It accepts the long-standing principle that customers may choose which UK port they use and that customers want not just port facilities but also good infrastructure.

The government document says that large gateway ports dealing with ro/ro and containers, such as Southampton, are under pressure to expand and substantial port development is on the cards.

It goes on to say that these gateway ports must be able to meet the demands of global shipping alliances, otherwise they stand to lose not only the future growth of their business but also substantial sections of their existing trade.

The government has ruled out the idea of a central plan for the allocation of new port capacity.