Hundreds of readers have supported this newspaper's campaign for the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, to use his power to get the centre built as soon as possible.

And Rushmoor chief executive Andrew Lloyd has praised the input of the News and the Mail in lobbying for the much-needed facility.

Mr Lloyd, who revealed that developer Wilky is close to finalising its planning application, said:"The Aldershot campaign has helped to focus on the importance of this and the priority local people give to it.

"It has served to show the decision makers that it's a project which has to happen."

Mr Lloyd added that significant progress has been made following discussions between the council and Wilky.

"Things are moving along, pretty much. The developer is nearly ready to finalise the application.

"We've identified areas which need final work so in essence the council will fast track the plans so that it can be dealt with as fast as possible."

The plans would still undergo a period of consultation, but he stressed that Rushmoor was prepared to have a special planning meeting to deal with the application if necessary.

Progress was being made with the leasing agreement proposed for the Surrey and Hampshire Borders NHS Trust.

This newspaper has reported how Wilky blamed the district valuer, an independent official, for holding up the project because he had not approved the proposals for rental prices.

Even though these still needed the final nod of approval, Mr Lloyd was confident an outcome was imminent.

He said: "The message from the Trust was that things are moving to a sensible conclusion.

"We just need to get the approval of the district valuer. That's the final piece of the jigsaw."

Wilky spokesman Ian Webb was also very positive the plans were moving forward.

"We're convinced it'll happen soon. I think it'll take weeks rather than months to finalise the plans.

"The general look, size and location isn't in doubt. We're really working on the details."

He said they were now looking to appoint an independent consultant to run a feasibility study into proposals for a health and fitness suite and one or two shops incorporated at the centre.

He also claimed the district valuer was happy with the rental agreement on offer.

"He seems to have confirmed the original deal is best value for money."

He said a model of the development, which will be the biggest health centre of its kind in the country, would be on public display at the present health centre in Aldershot when the plans were open to the public for consultation.