THE contractor building a £14.8m pipeline between Oxford's John Radcliffe and Churchill hospitals has suspended work after it was told it did not have the right permissions.

Vital Energi said it had taken the decision following a letter from Oxford City Council's most senior planning official, which said it had not obtained planning permission for the scheme.

The contractor is carrying out the work to build the new heating system - which will require several road closures over six months - for Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH).

Health bosses hope it will save millions in energy costs.

But in a statement issued tonight, Vital Energi project development director Ashley Malin said: "We have received correspondence from the local planning authority, Oxford City Council, regarding the energy link which we are currently investigating further.

"Works associated with the energy link underground utility services and the formation of the service trench have been suspended whilst discussions continue.

"We will continue to work closely with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the local planning authority, residents and stakeholders to minimise disruption.

"Further updates will be provided in due course.”

It comes as OUH faces questions over its handling of the Hospital Energy Project, an underground heating system that will link the JR and the Churchill.

Residents and councillors say they were not given enough notice of the work. The trust first applied for road closure licences it needed in January 2014, then subsequently reapplied in October, but only made its plans public in November. 

Oxfordshire County Council's scrutiny committee has said it is to separately carry out an internal investigation into how the licences were granted.

Roz Smith, Headington and Quarry county councillor, said: “We have been really dismayed by the way the trust has handled this.

“They could have contacted councillors and residents sooner and saved a lot of anxiety.”

OUH has not yet commented on the issue of planning permission.

But in response to the concerns about publicity of the scheme, head of estates Mark Neal said: "The trust accepts that the flow of information to local residents has not been as good as we would like and we have apologised to many residents in person, put two-way communications channels in place to directly respond to those affected and appointed a dedicated community liaison officer to answer residents’ queries directly.

"This is the most complex NHS energy project of its kind under way in the UK and a large amount of detailed information was communicated."