The Hobbit films have reportedly been given the greenlight for a February start, even though the labour dispute surrounding the two-part $400m project has not yet been resolved.

Neither of the films’ co-financiers, Warner’s New Line and MGM, would comment but both appear to have finally agreed to give the project the go-ahead. And writer-producer Peter Jackson is said to have finalised his deal to direct both films as well (original director Guillermo Del Toro dropped out earlier this year).

Production on the back-to-back films, both of which are expected to be shot in 3D, has to begin in February if the first film is to be ready for its planned release in December 2012.

However the timetable for the project could still be interrupted by other factors.

The dispute between Jackson and actors unions in New Zealand, where the films have long been set to shoot, has not yet been resolved

And it is not yet clear how much of the budget will come from New Line, which will distribute domestically through Warner Bros, and how much from MGM, which will have international rights to the films.

MGM’s future became uncertain this week when Lionsgate made a new proposal to merge with the beleauguered studio. The proposal came a few days after MGM unveiled details of a bankruptcy plan which, if approved, would leave it mostly owned by its lenders and headed by Spyglass Entertainment chiefs Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum.

The lenders had been due to vote on the bankruptcy plan by next Friday [22], but that deadline has been extended for a week, reportedly after one of the lenders requested an extension so that the Lionsgate proposal could be properly considered.

It has also been reported that Mary Parent, head of MGM’s motion picture group, is leaving the company after two-and-a-half years in which only one of the four films she has greenlit has been released.