PLANNING chiefs are still studying proposals which have sparked fears that shoppers could be attacked by hungry New Forest ponies.

The New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) has cited "outstanding issues" surrounding an application to upgrade a village hall on the edge of East Boldre.

Members of the group which runs the building have submitted several proposals, including one to open a new community shop.

As reported in the Daily Echo, the application 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 hall into a community hub, has sparked widespread support in the East Boldre area.

Residents are warning that the village could be left without a shop and post office if the application is refused.

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 villager 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."

An NPA spokesperson said: "Our planning department is still working with consultees to resolve outstanding issues relating to impacts on the open Forest."