A controversial £60 million Rolls-Royce factory in the heart of the West Sussex countryside has been given the go-ahead.

The plan could create more than 400 jobs with up to 1,000 cars a year coming off the production line.

BMW, owner of the prestige motoring marque, had threatened to take its operations overseas if it failed to win permission.

Chichester District Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the scheme to allow the new plant at Goodwood.

BMW must now get the final seal of approval from the Environment Secretary John Prescott because the factory would contravene normal guidelines on development in the countryside.

Supporters of the scheme believe Mr Prescott, who is expected to make a decision within weeks, would be unlikely to turn down the plan to create jobs in the country, sending work opportunities abroad, in the run up to the General Election.

Only six councillors at last night's meeting voted against the plan, with 33 in favour, but there were objections from up to six members of the public.

Normal planning restrictions on development in the countryside have been overruled because councillors believed the development would boost the local economy.

Frank Garrett, council development chairman, said: "One of the most important features is this unique development is of a very high quality which brings to the area a range of opportunities for employment.

"It's a brilliant, modern business development. If it was not coming to Chichester it would go abroad, and we do not want that."

The Environment Agency raised no objections to the plan.

German firm BMW, which owns Rolls-Royce, has said the factory and offices were designed to blend into an area of countryside where new development is usually banned.

It would be sunk into a former gravel extraction site and have a green roof.