Bryant Homes has bought the former Gurkha barracks site — the largest single land purchase it has ever undertaken.

The firm wants to build about 1,100 homes on 60 acres of the former Queen Elizabeth II Barracks in Sandy Lane.

Plans also include a primary school, community centre, doctor's surgery, sports pitches and shops.

Bryant, whose turnover last year exceeded £2billion for the first time, announced the purchase on September 16 but has refused to reveal how much it paid for the 193-acre site.

It hopes to start building next spring, with the first homes due to be released for sale in late 2003 or early 2004.

A quarter of them will be either affordable housing or accommodation to attract key workers such as teachers to the area.

John Beresford, senior land manager of Bryant Homes, said: "I know it's an old cliché, but it's all about location, location, location.

"This development opportunity, situated on the north Hampshire and Surrey border, is equidistant from the M3 and A3, and has good rail links nearby.

"Our aim is to provide an award-winning scheme with a wide variety of innovative new homes to suit a range of customers."

Bryant has renamed the site Kukri Park in memory of the Gurkha soldiers, who were based at the site for 30 years until they relocated to Kent in September 2000.

However the plans are set to get a rocky ride as English Nature has already warned the minitown scheme will ruin areas of outstanding ecological value within and surrounding the site.

It points out that the site is close to the Bourley and Long Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest, which supports the breeding of rare and valuable birds protected under EU laws.

The green group estimates more than 3,000 people will live on the new development, along with about 300 dogs which will continually disturb the rare birds, causing them to leave their territory or nests.

About 100 people braved heavy rain to attack the plan during a two-hour public meeting in Ewshot in October 2000.

The minitown plan has also come under fire from Crondall Parish Council, which warns it would add to the strain on the existing roads and ruin the green lung between Ewshot and Church Crookham.

Safety fears could also sink the plan as the former barracks site lies under the Farnborough Airfield flight path.

There are also fears that parts of the site may be contaminated as the Gurkhas used some of the land to store fuel for their vehicles.

Some live bullets are also thought to still be on the firing ranges.