ABOUT 500 jobs are to be lost to Winchester when Hampshire Police quits its HQ on Romsey Road for a new site in Chandler's Ford.

The decision to move to the new £9.2m HQ came after the force saw repeated attempts to get planning permission to overhaul the dated building in Winchester rejected.

More than 500 officers and staff will relocate to a currently unoccupied building in Eastleigh's Alpha Park within two years, making it the home of both the county's police and fire services.

Winchester civic leaders reacted with disappointment.

Jim Sawyer, chairman of the city's chamber of commerce, said: "It's disastrous. It is ridiculous that the police HQ is lost to the city. It can't do it any good. It is more employment going from the city.

"It all started with the whohaaing' over the redevelopment of the building and the city council not letting the police do it," said Mr Sawyer referring to the planners' rejection of the plan to re-clad the building in glass.

Mr Sawyer said the approval of a scheme for around 294 homes on the site was a green light for the police to move.

"The city council hasn't exactly resisted it. It is a sad day," he said.

The city council had been hoping to help provide another site within the district.

Council leader George Beckett said: "I'm disappointed that we have been unable to supply a site. It demonstrates we need to re-examine our rigid planning policies.

"The loss of any significant employer is likely to have a detrimental impact on local trade."

The withdrawal of hundreds of jobs in Winchester has few precedents in recent years; comparable job losses include the collapse of the Conder engineering firm and Webbs Foods, in the 1990s.

Unison, the union representing many of the 500 staff at the Romsey Road HQ, saw good and bad points.

While employees faced the disruption of moving offices, the union said the current site had many shortcomings.

Kathy Symonds, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Police branch secretary said: "As with any major change, I suspect there will be some unrest.

"On the plus side, Winchester is a pain in the neck to get into every day, and the accommodation is past its best, and the parking there is abysmal, so we're hoping there will be some improvements."

Hampshire Police Authority said it would have cost at least £11m to bring the existing HQ, most of which dates back to the 1960s, up to modern standards. The police have used the current building since 1966, however there has been a police presence on the site since the 1800s.

Up to £15m could be needed to update the currently unoccupied new building, which is on Electron Way, off School Lane, Chandler's Ford.

Hampshire Chief Constable Paul Kernaghan said: "The current headquarters building requires extensive investment and it has proved impossible to secure planning permission to stay."

In 2005 a government planning inspector, Clive Hughes, dismissed the county Police Authority's appeal against the city council's decision to reject its application to reclad the 1960s tower in glass.

The force then decided to relocate the 500 Romsey Road staff and sell the 2.3-hectare site to developers.

If a residential scheme goes ahead, it would be the single largest housing project in Winchester since the conversion of Peninsula Barracks in the early 1990s.

Martin Tod, Liberal Democrat Prospective parliamentary candidate for the new Winchester Constituency, which will include Chandler's Ford after the next General Election, said: "Overall, this is good opportunity for Winchester.

It's never great to lose a big employer, but we urgently need more houses for local people. Most people at the police headquarters commute in, so the move should reduce traffic."

* What do you think of the move? Are you affected? Add your comments below.