"ANOTHER step in the right direction," is how Tony McCabe has described the announcement on Tuesday of $500,000 to develop a master plan and business case for a new centralised hospital for the Byron Shire.
Spokesman for the Byron Shire Hospital Action Group, Mr McCabe said the battle for a new hospital had been running for 30 years.
"We are now finally heading in the right direction and we can only go forward from here," he said.
As we go through each stage we can tick them off and we are now getting closer to our goal of looking after own residents closer to home. This has been a community battle and gradually we are bringing it to fruition.
Speaking at the six-hectare hospital site at Ewingsdale on Tuesday, Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the master plan would examine a number of issues including the site's topography and where other health buildings would be located to complement the services delivered by the future hospital.
"Health Infrastructure will commence development of the master plan and business case for the new hospital in early 2013," she said.
"This project is too important not to get right which is why the NSW Government is committed to investing in comprehensive planning for the benefit of future patients, family and carers in this region."
Member for Ballina Don Page said master planning for the site and services was crucial to ensure the needs of local residents were taken into account.
"The master planning will assess the needs of local residents to ensure their clinical needs will be met and that external considerations including aesthetic and noise are evaluated," he said.
The new 54-bed hospital is estimated to cost $100 million.
"Taking into account all the steps involved in the process, I could not see it being built before 2016," Mrs Skinner said.
"The new hospital is being built on a greenfields site and we will be replacing both Byron and Mullumbimby hospitals, which are currently level two hospitals, with a level three hospital."
Chief executive of the Northern NSW Local Health District Chris Crawford said there were still quite a number of steps and stages to go through before the hospital was up and running.
"Following the master plan and business case, there's a project definition plan, then a detailed plan, then the tendering process and finally the building of the hospital," he said.
"This will all take time, but we are making progress."