WORK on Aldershot's long awaited £15-million health centre could start before the end of the year.

That's the optimistic forecast of developers Wilky Property Holding following talks with Rushmoor Council planning chiefs last Friday.

The company is now preparing to submit a planning application to build the state-of-the-art centre on the Hospital Hill site.

A Wilky spokesman said: "Unless there are any more delays, we could be on site in four to six months' time, with a 15-month build programme."

The news will delight campaigners who have been engaged in a five-year battle for the town to be provided with modern health service facilities.

They began their fight soon after the closure of the Cambridge Military Hospital which had served both military personnel and the civilian population for many years.

Since then scores of patients have been faced with a long trek to Frimley Park Hospital for treatment to many minor ailments and injuries.

Until last Friday's announcement the centre seemed a distant dream, with attempts to start the scheme becoming bogged down by red tape.

The latest wrangle involved Wilky and the District Valuer, and the amount of rent to be charged for the building.

According to the company, agreement appears to have been reached which will result in the health trust being charged a rent around 25 per cent lower than for a normal commercial letting.

The new facility would replace the 1960s health centre in Wellington Avenue which is creaking at the seams.

Designed to cater for an estimated 500,000 patients a year, the new centre would provide facilities for GPs and a wide range of other health workers.

The building would also include a dental surgery, an audiology unit and x-ray department.