The City of Surrey is one step closer to replacing its RCMP detachment with a municipal police force.

On Thursday, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth gave the province's second-largest city the green light to establish its proposed Surrey Police department.

To ensure the highly complex transition goes smoothly, the government has also put together a joint committee led by former MLA Wally Oppal to oversee the process.

"There is much more work to be done," Farnworth told reporters. "The committee will be comprised of staff from both the city, the province and experts who will work to ensure all key issues are addressed."

The decision to switch to a municipal police force has been controversial, particularly since details of Surrey's plan became public earlier this year in the city's transition report.

Farnworth previously raised some concerns about the lack of detail in certain areas of the report, but said Thursday that the province respects Surrey leaders' "desire to transition to a municipal police department."

The committee will ensure public safety is given top priority throughout every stage of the process, Farnworth added.

Asked whether the Surrey Police force could potentially launch by the city's proposed start date of April 1, 2021, Farnworth said that will be up to Oppal's team. The city's current contract with the RCMP expires in March 2021.

"I expect them to work expeditiously but that will be in the hands of the committee," he said.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, whose coalition swept to power in October on a promise to replace the RCMP, applauded the province's announcement.

"Today is a great and historic day for the residents and businesses of Surrey," he said.

Critics have argued the new police force, as proposed in the city's transition report, will cost $19 million more than Surrey currently pays for the RCMP, and provide for about 40 fewer officers.

That's caused a rift among the city's eight councillors, three of whom have spoken out against the plan.

Though McCallum insists switching to a municipal force will make the city safer, some, including Coun. Linda Annis, have doubts.

"We're changing the badges and that's not going to make any difference," she said. "It's going to cost significantly more…way more than projected by the mayor."

Despite some growing concerns in the community and at city hall, McCallum shot down the suggestion that Surrey hold a referendum to give citizens' a say.

"I consider the election a referendum on this. It was the number one issue we campaigned on," McCallum said. "I think the public was very clear that they want to see their own Surrey Police force."

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Ben Miljure