Ref. 28891-6A new multi-million pound complex will be opening its doors to its first residents within a year.

Demolition at the former Princess Alexandra Hospital, in Wroughton, is well underway.

The complex, which will include 179 houses, offices and a children's play area, will also boast a memorial to the old hospital.

Paul Crispin, managing director for David Wilson Homes Southern, who owns the land, said: "It is our intention to organise a competition to design a memorial of the former hospital which will then be erected in the new village as permanent reminder of the development's former use."

Demolition of the red brick building, which had served people from all over the world since it opened in 1941, began in November last year. Now construction is due to start on an access road, while a small commercial area will take shape in April.

Mr Crispin said: "This will be closely followed by the first of the 179 houses with two show homes and a marketing complex due to be unveiled in September.

"First occupations should take place in January 2005.

"The scheme for this development has been designed on the concept of a new downlands village, so that it reflects the style and character of surrounding villages as they have evolved over centuries."

The planned complex on the 65-acre site will be a far cry from its former use.

In its time the hospital was used as a clearing-house for World War II casualties from across Europe, took in wounded soldiers from the Falklands War and also treated casualties from the first Gulf War.

British hostages Terry Waite and John McCarthy were treated at the hospital after their release from Beirut by Middle East fundamentalists.

In recent times it has been empty, although the site has been used as a camping ground by groups of travellers and a training base for SAS troopers.

London developer Dukeminster first bought the 65-acre site in 2000, five years after the RAF hospital shut following Government defence cutbacks.

Dukeminster then sold the land to current owners David Wilson Homes Ltd and Hayley Conference Centres.

A local campaign to reopen the hospital, headed by the late Coun Jim Masters, a former Swindon mayor, gathered momentum in the years following the closure.

It culminated in a 50,000-name petition, which was handed to the Government. But despite the efforts of the Wroughton Action Group, Princess Alexandra was doomed.

l Meanwhile the bulldozers are preparing to raze another Swindon hospital to the ground.

Swindon mayor Derek Benfield will lend a hand in starting demolition works at the former Princess Margaret Hospital tomorrow. The 24-acre Okus Road site, which was opened by the late Princess Margaret in May 1957, is owned by Bloor Homes. The firm plans to build 500 homes, ranging from one-bedroom up to five-bedrooms.

Alex Emery