After five years of wrangling, the first brick in the £15million scheme has still to be laid, leaving Aldershot residents wondering whether they will ever see the ground-breaking project become a reality.

Negotiations between the developer and a government-appointed official have been progressing at a snail's pace and there is still no guarantee the joint military and civilian facility, promised since the closure of the Cambridge Military Hospital in 1996, will be built.

The state-of-the-art centre is needed to bring a host of healthcare services under one roof and relieve pressure on Frimley Park Hospital.

So now the Aldershot News is backing calls from local politicians and health groups for government ministers to intervene and drive the project forward.

It wants Health Secretary Alan Milburn to give his personal assurance that the project will start soon.

Aldershot councillor David Clifford summed up the mood when he said: "We want answers and we want them now. We want progress and we want it now. We want a health centre and we want it now."

The problem currently lies in talks between the developer Wilky and the district valuer, an independent executive who reports to the Inland Revenue and ultimately the Treasury.

He wants the rental price for the GP surgery space in the centre to be lower than the figure Wilky is suggesting.

And with neither party prepared to move too far from their suggested figures, negotiations so far have been agonisingly slow. It is the latest piece of red tape to slow up the project.

Wilky chiefs, hopeful that the stalemate can be ended, have taken the bull by the horns and will discuss their blueprints with Rushmoor officials on February 8.

A full planning application is likely to be submitted the following week.

Wilky's development consultant Ian Webb said that if an agreement is reached the company could start work on the site within four to six months.

He said: "We can't believe that this isn't going to have a satisfactory outcome. We have come a long way with this and we have been working with the health trusts for five years now. We have overcome many hurdles, resolved many issues and done all the path-finding work necessary bar this one last hurdle."

Rushmoor Council leader John Marsh described the Centre for Health as "a very important scheme both for the residents of Aldershot and the whole area".

He added: "We won't be fully satisfied until we actually see something being built here.

"We are getting so close and it's annoying that we are just that little bit away and it all comes down to the district valuer."

Cllr David Welch, cabinet member for community, said: "We want a date that we can go on. I can assure you that if nothing happens shortly we will resurrect our plan of sending an all-party delegation up to see the minister. I would like to see something happen before the end of this month."

And Paul Mitchell, chief officer of the West Surrey and North-East Hampshire Community Health Council, backed the demand for a start date.

He said: "Clearly everyone involved wants to get it resolved as quickly as possible.

"We understand the valuer has to check out the genuine value for money and such but that doesn't need to take months and months to do.

"Clearly there is frustration shared by everyone and we all want to get on with it now."

If the project does go ahead it will relieve pressure on the outdated and overcrowded health centre in Wellington Avenue. The centre would be home to 15 GPs, health visitors, nurses, child specialists, psychiatrists and a dental surgery, as well as an audiology unit and X-ray room.

A restaurant, opticians and health shop would also be incorporated along with a health and fitness club. Part of the building — one of the largest of its kind in the country — would house Army facilities but the rest would be open for public use.

It would treat an estimated 500,000 patients each year and its outpatient facilities would relieve pressure on Frimley Park Hospital. A final decision on whether the centre will include a minor injuries unit has yet to be taken.

Cllr David Clifford demanded: "Ministers should put pressure on the district valuer to come to a decision. As an Aldershot councillor I am disgusted at just how long this is taking."

* The News is calling on the Health Secretary Alan Milburn to persoally intervene. We want him to provide a cast iron guarantee for the centre and to give us a start date. If you feel the same way, fill in a petition form on page 8 of this week's News and send it to us to pass on.

Or write a letter to Mr Milburn and send it via the News at 35-39 High Street, Aldershot, Hants GU11 1BH.