ALDERSHOT MP Gerald Howarth has demanded a top level probe into the crisis surrounding the town's long awaited £20 million centre for health.

He has called on Health Secretary Alan Milburn to hold an inquiry into the "shambolic way" the public-private partnership deal has been handled.

His plea follows revelations that the scheme has virtually collapsed because of a row between the Blackwater and Hart Primary Care Trust and Wilky Healthcare Centres, the prospective builders.

The trust said it has been unable to agree a figure for renting the facilities from Wilky, which has won the contract to build the centre. "I am appalled that after seven years of negotiations we appear to be back to square one with the project in danger of collapse," said Mr Howarth.

Describing the centre as one of the area's most exciting projects, he said it was designed to provide 21st centre primary care medical facilities for local residents. "Its unique feature was that it was designed to serve the civilian population and the military garrison, bringing an increased range of facilities of benefit to both communities," he added.

The controversy came to a head last week when the trust said that Wilky had pulled out of the project because of the rent issue.

But this week it seemed that efforts were being made to rescue the scheme, which is earmarked for a site at Hospital Hill. Debbie Glenn, the trust's chief executive, said on Monday that she understood Wilky intended to resume negotiations on the rent issue.

"We have today written to the developer again requesting detailed information which is essential to the negotiations, and to our ability to assess whether this scheme represents value for money for the NHS and taxpayers," she said.

Ian Webb, Wilky development consultant, said they were still committed to "this long overdue Aldershot project".

He added that the company was bewildered by last week's turn of events, and blamed the breakdown on a change of position by the trust.