On Wednesday, the Blackwater and Hart Primary Care Trust (PCT) announced that developer Wilky Healthcare had pulled out of the project.

The PCT claimed that a row over rent had caused discussions to break down and that Wilky Healthcare had withdrawn from the negotiating table.

However, a Wilky Healthcare spokesman said he was “bewildered” by the news and said the developer was still committed to the project.

The row has highlighted the deep division between the two main players behind the centre and is another hitch to an already delayed development.

The uncertainty arose after the PCT issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon that Wilky Healthcare representatives had failed to turn up to a crunch meeting.

Last month the News reported how the centre for health had been held up by a row over rent.

The district valuer stepped in to decide how much the NHS should pay developer Wilky Healthcare to use the building.

On Wednesday the PCT and Wilky Healthcare were set for further talks to try and thrash out a deal.

However, when Wilky Healthcare failed to show the PCT, believing that it had withdrawn from the project, announced that it was looking for a new developer.

In a statement, the PCT said it was very disappointed that, despite a concerted effort by both parties, no agreement over rent could be reached.

Dr Cathy Winfield, the PCT’s director of planning and partnerships, said: “Our final negotiation meeting with the developer was scheduled for this morning but the developer did not attend.

“We are very disappointed. We feel that we have put in a lot of effort into the project and feel let down.”

Dr Winfield said that the PCT was determined to keep the project on track and quickly find a new developer.

She said that Wilky Healthcare had been asking for too much rent for using the centre and this had caused negotiations to break down.

Dr Winfield added: “The PCT has a duty to ensure that public money is spent efficiently and, having taken advice, we did not believe the offer from the existing developers gave the NHS value for money.

“We are therefore considering a number of alternative options and opening the project up to other developers to work in partnership with the NHS.”

Dr Winfield said that the PCT had received a phone call and e-mail from Wilky Healthcare saying that it was not attending Wednesday’s meeting.

The PCT took this as meaning that Wilky Healthcare was withdrawing from the project and issued a statement saying that it had done so.

But Ian Webb, development consultant for Wilky Healthcare, said: “We are bewildered that the trust has issued a unilateral statement, apparently on behalf of all parties, claiming we have decided to withdraw from negotiations.

“This presumably includes the army. The trust’s statement is not true.

“What is true is that we postponed a meeting this morning as a consequence of being informed late last night that the trust has substantially changed its position, for reasons that are not yet clear to us.

“What we would wish to inform your readers of is our continuing commitment to this long overdue Aldershot project, on which we have been working now for some seven years. As recently as Monday of this week, we appeared only a few percentage points apart on a rental agreement.

“The trust has further informed us that they will now pursue negotiations elsewhere. No doubt your readers will be interested to know how, when and where and with what guarantee of success.

“For our part we remain in position to deliver the centre with a start of construction in late summer of this year and completion at or around the end of 2004.

“I can only repeat our total bewilderment at this turn of events.”

When told of Wilky’s response, PCT spokeswoman Carol Hemsley said: “We wrote to the developer saying that we concluded that they have withdrawn and have not heard anything different.”

Rushmoor Council chief executive Andrew Lloyd said councillors were meeting with the PCT to try to get it back around the negotiating table with Wilky.

He added: “We will do all we can to make sure that any delays are kept to a minimum.”

The Aldershot centre for health is supposed to be the main healthcare centre for the military garrison.

Blackwater Valley and Hart PCT took over the project last June and has been planning extended services at the centre. It is looking to create the largest centre for health in the country.

The centre, planned for Hospital Hill, was to have been built and paid for by Wilky Healthcare and then rented to the NHS.

It will include the three GP surgeries based in the current health centre and an enhanced range of ‘one-stop shop’ facilities to provide modern primary care treatment.

There is also room for a minor injuries unit linked to the main A and E at Frimley Park Hospital, although no decision has been made on whether it will be included.

The latest delay is another blow for the Aldershot residents who have been promised a centre for health since the Cambridge closed in 1996.