TOURISM leaders have spoken of their shock over news that a leading Hampshire hotel is to close with the loss of 21 jobs.

The 60-bed Lyndhurst Park Hotel, which occupies a prime site at the entrance to the village, is due to shut early next year.

Its owners are selling the loss-making building and say the deal is likely to result in the total redevelopment of the site.

Last night they refused to name the buyer but said the hotel looked set to be replaced by another type of holiday accommodation.

The loss of scores of hotel beds would be a serious blow to the local tourism industry, which is worth almost £500m.

Steve Lorton, vice chairman of the New Forest Tourism Association, said: “It’s a bit of a surprise – there was no indication that anything like this was on the cards.

“The loss of any serviced accommodation in the Forest is something we wouldn’t want to see.”

However, members of the National Park Authority stressed that planning policies aimed to prevent the demise of important community facilities such as hotels.

Anthony Climpson, the district council’s employment and tourism manager, called for the building to be retained.

“Hotel beds are very important to the local economy and we would want to see that everything is done to protect them,” he said.

Set in four acres of landscaped grounds, the former Georgian mansion has an outdoor tennis court, an oak-panelled restaurant and extensive conference facilities.

St James’s Hotel Group bought the three-star facility in March this year.

Managing director Nicholas Crawley said: “The hotel has been making losses and an offer has been made to purchase the site for redevelopment.

“It’s an old building in a poor state of repair and would require huge amounts of further investment to bring it up-to-date.

“We have therefore accepted an offer which is likely to result in the total redevelopment of the site and the opening of some new type of serviced holiday accommodation.”

The hotel, one of the Forest’s most iconic buildings, employs 13 full-time staff and eight casual workers.