AN ANCIENT Hampshire church of "outstanding national importance" is seeking consent to re-roof parts of the building damaged during a £10,000 lead theft.

Members of the Grade 1-listed St George's Church in Damerham have submitted a planning application following the success of a fundraising appeal launched in the wake of the theft.

As reported in the Daily Echo, the church was targeted in January in a crime which shocked the local community.

Thieves climbed 35ft up the 11th century bell tower to steal the lead, which was covered in inscriptions dating back to the 18th century.

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

In a letter to New Forest District Council Historic England says: "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 and may once have had a defensive purpose.

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

"The loss of the lead has put the church 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 has been written by Marion Brinton, inspector of historic buildings and areas.

She says Historic England would normally expect the missing material to be replaced on a like-for-like basis but cites the risk of another theft if lead is used again.

Ms Brinton adds: "On this basis, and with great reluctance, I accept the argument for the change from lead to terne-coated steel."

A design and access statement submitted as part of the planning application says: "Early in the new year lead was stolen from the belfry roof, leaving the building exposed to the elements.

"To prevent future theft the applicants are reluctant to use lead again.

"Terne-coated stainless steel has a zinc/tin allow finish which gives it an appearance not dissimilar to lead and it is believed this would be an appropriate choice of material."

Meanwhile church members are celebrating the success of a £10,000 appeal launched after the theft.

In a message to parishioners the Rev Leslie Player says: "Yes! Because of your extraordinary generosity we've reached our target.

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