THE Army base in Winchester is set to close in 2020, the Government announced today.

Sir John Moore Barracks, at Littleton only opened in 1986 but is now surplus to requirements by the Ministry of Defence.

Michael Fallon, the Secretary of State for Defence, made the announcement in the House of Commons this afternoon.

The news will not come as a shock as the Chronicle revealed it was under serious threat in June.

Local MP Steve Brine has joined business leader, the city council and university to launch ambitious plans for a knowledge park on the 86-hectare site.

The group revealed they are exploring how to bring hundreds of new high skilled jobs to the site which is expected to be highly attractive to employers because of its proximity to the city centre and transport links to the A34. Housing developers will also be interested in the land across the road from Barton Farm.

Mr Brine said today: "It is disappointing the MoD have made what is an operational decision to dispose of the ATR because it marks the end of an era but we have a huge opportunity to make a positive local response and I'm determined we will do that.

"I hear time and again from business leaders that we have a serious lack of commercial space in the city so this land becoming available could tie up well with our long-stated ambition to foster high quality, well paid, employment locally."

Stewart Dunn, from the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce said: "The proposed sale offers Winchester the opportunity to develop a Knowledge Park in partnership potentially with the University and business. Such a development would place Winchester at the cutting edge of innovation and bring jobs and economic growth to the City."

Prof Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor at the University of Winchester said: "As the city's university, we are passionate about boosting knowledge and innovation while growing the number of jobs that go with it.

"There is a huge amount of potential for Winchester to be the engine room of productivity and creativity for the region.

"We look forward to developing plans for the city's very own knowledge park to add to the excellent opportunities Winchester already has to offer."

Cllr Stephen Godfrey, leader of Winchester City Council, added; "Although hugely disappointed that one of Winchester's military connections is to be lost, I have been reassured by the positive indication given by the Ministry of Defence for our proposals to see the barracks retained for employment.

"Rather than develop the site primarily for housing - which the Council would resist strongly as it would be contrary to its Local Plan - we hope to work with the MOD, the University of Winchester, local business organisations and some of the large companies that want to be in Winchester to create well-paid jobs for local people."