THE first sod will be cut on the site of the new baby unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital on October 10, The Standard can reveal.

The High Sheriff of Cheshire, Alexis Redmond MBE, will carry out the ceremonial duty to celebrate the start of construction work on the £2.4 million neonatal facility.

It comes after this newspaper exclusively revealed plans for the unit following three years of fundraising by the hospital’s Babygrow Appeal team.

The money will pay for a new extended unit that, once complete, will be more than twice the size of the current one.

Subject to approval by Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee, it is hoped that it will open in September next year.

Lesley Woodhead, head of fundraising at the Countess, said: “I feel immensely proud.

“We have had so much support from individuals, businesses and the community across Chester we are really grateful and could not have done it without you.”

Major events in the city that have helped raise cash for the appeal include the Santa Dash, Duck Race, and MBNA Chester Marathon.

The existing neonatal unit was built in 1974 and its design has become out-dated.

The new building will not only be packed with state-of-the-art, life-saving technology, it will also focus on providing space, privacy and as much comfort as possible for the tots and their families.

Businesswoman and mum Leila Bibby, who chaired the Babygrow Appeal committee and had twins on the unit, said: “This is the first unit in the country to be designed with family integrated care.

“The new unit will make such a difference to the parents and siblings and most importantly the babies who sometimes spend months in the unit being cared for.”

And the hospital’s Director of Nursing and Quality, Alison Kelly, added: “Our new neonatal unit will be one of the first in the country designed to deliver truly family integrated care.

“With exceptional facilities for patients and staff it will enable us to deliver the very best care for our patients and their families.”