PLANS to open a new shop in a Hampshire village have sparked fears that customers could be attacked by hungry ponies seeking food.

The New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) has received an application to transform a building that formed part of a First World War airfield on the edge of East Boldre.

But the proposal is being opposed by the New Forest Verderers.

In a letter to the NPA the Official Verderer, Lord Manners, says: "It is very unusual for a building of this nature to be located on the open forest.

"The area is much used by stock. We are very concerned that the interaction between shop customers and the ponies is potentially fraught with danger.

"Regrettably members of the public feed the ponies and thus the ponies often associate carrier bags with food."

Lord Manners says this can cause the animals to become aggressive, which may endanger users of the shop.

But the proposal, part of a scheme to turn the village hall into a community hub, has sparked widespread support in the East Boldre area.

Villagers say the scheme will ensure the village retains its shop and post office.

In a letter to the NPA the parish council says: "This is an exemplary planning application which will safeguard the future of the hall. The design fits extremely well into the location and will improve facilities for the local community."

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and New Forest East MP Julian Lewis are also supporting the application.

Lord Montagu's letter to the NPA says: "East Boldre is a rural community with an ageing population and only a twice-weekly bus service which makes the small village shop and post office a lifeline for many.

"If this project fails the village will lose this service."

Referring to coronavirus pandemic one villagers adds: " The (existing) shop has been an essential service selling food and provisions. Without it many people would have to go without or travel.

"Public transport links in East Boldre are very poor and many rely on shop for food and the post office.

"Without a shop there would be many more miles travelled through the national park to reach Lymington or Hythe."