THE first shots have been fired in the battle to prevent Charmouth's historic former road tunnel from becoming a rifle range.

Operators of the old folk’s home next door say their peace will be shattered if the plan goes ahead – and warn public safety could be put at risk by guns being brought to the area.

John Corney, joint owner of Thistlegate House, claims it will harm the ‘emotional and psychological health’ of his elderly residents – and he is also worried about their security.

He said: “I am amazed that both the applicants and West Dorset District Council are insensitive enough to propose and encourage the proliferation of deadly handguns to this area.

“They will no doubt be selling handguns, rifles and semi-automatic weapons from the proposed gun shop housed within the tunnel.

“I am appalled at the lack of sensitivity by even considering siting such a facility within 200 metres of the vulnerable elderly cared for at Thistlegate House – and a four-star plus Thistelgate holiday lodge which attracts British and overseas visitors.”

Mr Corney has also slammed claims that the new rifle range would be up to ‘Olympic standard’ and the suggestion that it might feature in the 2012 games.

He says it is nothing more than “a shameful self publicity stunt” by owners Clist Properties to make people think that the Olympics are coming to Charmouth, when officials have assured him that it will not be a venue.

He said: “Even Bisley is not up to Olympic standard so it is ludicrous to suggest that the Charmouth tunnel range could be built to that level.”

Mr Corney said experts had told him that various weapons could be used at the range - some discharging 10 or 12 rounds within three to four seconds. Some high velocity ammunition would provide an additional boom by breaking the sound barrier.

He said the “intolerable nuisance of constant gunfire” - shooting in the tunnel could happen 365 days a year from 8am to 10pm 365 days a year.

He added: “Should the district council approve the application then they will be playing with fire in terms of the mental health issues of the elderly clients at Thistlegate House.

Clist properties, who bought the Grade II Listed tunnel in 2005, have applied to create a 25-metre small bore range along with a shop and club room on the ground floor and create an upper floor for a 50-metre small bore/centre fire gallery rifle range.

Owner Richard Clist says their application has been given the “unqualified support” of the National Shooting Centre at Bisley and the safety features for the range have been discussed and backed by the National Rifle Association. Support has also come from Wootton Fitzpaine Parish Council and Lyme Regis Town Council is also backing the bid.

Residents have until March 27 to make representations to the district council. The application number is 1/D/09/000202.