FUNDING for the replacement for Bicester’s community hospital has been approved, removing the last major hurdle from the project.

A business case for the £5m hospital was given the go-ahead by the Board of NHS South of England Strategic Health Authority.

It paves the way for work to start on the hospital in January, once contracts have been signed by NHS Oxfordshire, the primary care trust, and developer Kajima.

Both confirmed a “commercial issue” had to be resolved before contracts were signed, but hoped work on the new hospital would start early in 2013.

In September, Cherwell District councillors unanimously voted in favour of plans to build a replacement 12-bed hospital on land behind the existing hospital in Kings End.

Once complete, the old Victorian hospital building will be demolished to make way for 14 two and three-bedroom houses.

The new hospital will be funded by a combination of the sale of the hospital site to Kajima and a bank loan to the developer.

The PCT said the rent it pays will need to cover the pay back of the loan, maintenance and life cycle of the facility.

After the meeting last Thursday, a PCT spokesman said: “The long-awaited community hospital development is now very close to becoming a reality, but there is still one issue to resolve. We are hopeful this will take place in early 2013, and building work can begin shortly afterwards.”

Richard Coe, Kajima’s senior development manager, said: “We have not resolved the funding point but we are working on it.

“It concerns the NHS reforms and the change from the PCT to the likely NHS Property Services company as of April 1, 2013.

“We continue to work on discharging planning conditions and Mansell has been on site a number of times in preparation for a positive start to construction. I am hoping we will sign the contract before Christmas and start on site in January 2013.”

The news has been welcomed in the town, but one hospital campaigner is disappointed the site was being sold as part of the deal.

Les Sibley, chairman of Save Our Community Hospital, said: “It is great news the hospital is coming.

“But it’s disappointing the PCT is selling the hospital site to developers where some of the site is being used for residential. By selling it off, it means the site won’t be controlled by the NHS anymore but by the developer.”

Dr Michael Curry, chairman of community participation group Chef, said getting funding was a major achievement for all involved in the project.

He said: “I’m delighted with the news. This was a major hurdle from the outset.

“There is just a minor problem about propriety – with the change in the organisation in the NHS no-one is quite sure who owns what, and the developer quite properly wants this sorted out.

“I’m very optimistic. There is a real chance we will see bulldozers on site in January.”