IT’S TAKEN a decade of hard work – but campaigners are this week celebrating after plans were finally agreed to build a new medical centre and church in South Ham, Basingstoke.

Planners at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council have accepted proposals for the new facility on the site of St Andrew’s Methodist Church, in Western Way and work could begin this spring.

As part of the plan, Dr Hudson and Partners will shut its two existing surgeries in Paddock Road, South Ham and Moorhams Avenue in Hatch Warren, respectively, and move to the new Western Way site. A dentist’s surgery should also be part of the centre, which has been part of a long-drawn-out series of negotiations as the doctors have sought to move from the run-down Paddock Road premises.

The release of £3.2million to fund the project will now be agreed by Cabinet member for finance and property, Cllr James Lewin.

The land was sold by St Andrew’s to Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council on the condition it builds a new church and hall for them.

The council will recoup its outlay in rent payments from the medical centre.

South Ham ward councillor Sean Keating, who has backed the project since 2001, told The Gazette: “I am delighted that the plans are now coming to fruition.

“A large number of sites were explored. The need to replace the existing, inadequate facilities has become more and more urgent. South Ham needs this.”

The doctors’ practice manager, Anne Phillips, said: “We don’t want to count our chickens, but it looks like things are moving forward.”

Terry Ayres, steward at St Andrew’s, added: “We are all so excited that we have planning permission for the South Ham project. As Christians, we thank God for that.”

But not all are pleased with the outcome. Hatch Warren and Beggarwood Cllr Phil Heath said he fears the Moorhams Avenue surgery in his ward will be turned into housing.

He said: “That building was put there for the use of the community as a doctors and dentist.”

The demolition of St Andrew’s Church will have to move quickly, however, before a colony of rare bats return to the building.

A rare species occupies the building for part of the year and their protected status would block any potential development.