Minister for Health Simon Harris is expected to seek Cabinet approval for the first phase of construction of the National Maternity Hospital to proceed on the site of St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin.

However, legal agreement between all parties on the final contract for the new relocated hospital is not expected until the New Year.

Minister Harris will bring a memo to Cabinet this morning seeking approval for the first part of construction, involving a car park and a pharmacy on the site.

However, he is expected to tell colleagues that it will be the new year before the contract for the new hospital will be agreed between the Department of Health, the National Maternity Hospital and St Vincent’s.

Concerns have been raised about the appointment of a public interest director, keeping the building in public ownership and the formal ending of the involvement of the Sisters of Charity in the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

Minister Harris is expected to tell colleagues that significant progress has been made on these issues.

Meanwhile a group of environmental activists has called on the minister to halt plans for the building of the  hospital saying the Government was trying to rush through approval to start construction in order to avoid complying with regulations.

Architect Duncan Stewart said that revising plans now to comply with the new regulations would be a "simple matter" and would not lead to big delays.

Climate activist Donna Cooney said she was considering legal action to prevent building from getting under way. 

Editor of Passive House Plus magazine Jeff Colley said the Government is "trying to pull a fast one" by beginning work on the new hospital before new EU regulations come into effect from 1 January.

Mr Stewart said it was shameful that the hospital will not comply with "zero-energy building" requirements. 

He said: "Think of those young babies that will be born, they will live into the 22nd century but are we being fair to them with the way we are treating climate change? Ireland is not performing and is completely out of line with the EU."

Master of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street Dr Rhona Mahony recently warned that work would have to begin before new EU regulations requiring "zero energy" from State occupied buildings come into effect in January. 

She said if construction did not get under way before then, revised plans would have to be submitted, which could lead to further delays and added costs.