PARISHIONERS hoping to replace parts of an historic church roof damaged during a £10,000 lead theft have submitted a planning application for the work.

Members of the community in New Forest village Damerham, near Fordingbridge, are hoping to gain permission for the work at Grade I-listed St George's Church.

It follows the success of a fundraising appeal launched in the wake of the theft.

The church was targeted in January. Thieves climbed 35 feet up the belltower and stole lead covered in inscriptions dating back to the 18th century.

Now church members have applied for permission to re-roof the belfry and tower using stainless steel rather than lead.

A letter to New Forest District Council reads: "St George's Church is of outstanding national importance.

"The church dates from the medieval period and was once much larger than the church we see today.

"The most imposing feature is the tower, which may be Norman in origin. It may once have had a defensive purpose.

"The top of the tower was build in the 17th century to house the bells, which date from 1666."

Parishioners say the lead theft has left the building "at great risk of damage from water penetration".

"The lead was also of historic interest as it is thought to be at least 300 years old," the letter reads.

Historic England would usually expect the missing material to be replaced on a like-for-like basis. However, thieves could strike again if lead is used, it is feared.

Residents of Fordingbridge pitched in to help raised £10,000 for the roof.

In a message to all those who helped raise the funding, Reverend Leslie Player said: "Because of your extraordinary generosity, we've reached out target.

"Now we have a solid base to tackle the repairs with confidence."