CONTROVERSIAL plans to open a KFC in a New Forest town have been given the go-ahead after a three-month war of words.

Civic chiefs have approved an application to convert the former NatWest bank at Station Road, New Milton, into a restaurant and takeaway.

The proposal, which will create 20 jobs, split the local community after it was submitted in the middle of July.

New Forest District Council received 137 letters from people who said they wanted to see a KFC in the town centre. But the application also sparked 89 letters of objection, plus a petition with more than 180 signatures.

Some of the objectors claimed the town did not need another fast food outlet.

A report to councillors said: "Many people would prefer a 'proper' restaurant, with Italian seeming to be the preferred option. From a planning point of view, need is not a material consideration and it is not possible to differentiate between the type of restaurant to be provided. "Whilst the current applicant is a franchise of KFC, a favourable decision would not preclude an alternative end user."

The report said the proposal would result in a vacant unit being occupied for the first time in years, creating more vibrancy in the main shopping area.

It conceded that the proposed development did not include a car park but said KFC customers combining their visit with other business in the town centre would park in council car parks, use public transport or walk to the site.

Summing up, the report said the proposal provided an opportunity for a prime town centre building to be reused.

It added: "The New Milton Neighbourhood Plan makes reference to broadening the town's appeal to younger households and notes that the number of restaurants and cafes are noticeably lower than in comparable towns.

"There is a desire to develop the town centre with an evening economy and the proposal would go some way to the creation of this."

The petition against the application was launched by Heidi Downs, who cited the town's litter problem.

She said: "There are already huge amounts of litter dropped around the skatepark, children’s play area and the surrounding areas. Imagine adding KFC cups, boxes and bags to that."

But other residents supported the application.

Rachael Bungay said: “I think this is a wonderful idea. Hopefully this is the making of a town that has needed a new lease of life for so long."