GROUNDWORKS are expected to begin within days to prepare former industrial land for the construction of a £24m rugby league stadium for Saints.

Developers and the club finally appointed a contractor to build the stadium and a Tesco Extra supermarket when a deal was signed last Friday night.

The contract – agreed with Scottish-based Barr Construction - is to regenerate the derelict United Glass site at Peasley Cross.

It is worth £44m, is expected to create 1,400 new jobs, and could be completed by October 2011.

The contractor is due on site this week and further clearance and land remediation is expected before construction begins.

The move represents the most positive step forward in the saga to create a new stadium that has spanned more than a decade and witnessed numerous setbacks, false dawns and publicity announcements.

Naming the contractor also breaks an uncomfortable four-month period of silence over the plans that had raised fears among some supporters that the scheme was in jeopardy.

Relief and excitement at finally reaching this stage were the overriding emotions as key players in the project held a press conference.

Saints chairman Eamonn McManus alluded to the difficulties maintaining the plans during turbulent economic and financial conditions.

He said: “This is quite an achievement, if you look at the last couple of years it’s difficult to identify any sports clubs able to deliver on plans in anyway like the original ones during extremely difficult financial and property markets which underpin, financially, any major project.

“We have been able to reengineer and renegotiate the structure which we had in place to deliver the stadium we promised our fans two years ago.

“We look forward over the next 12 to 24 months when we will see the stadium rise from the ground.

“It will be a momentous day when the first ball is kicked in that new stadium - it is what the town needs and what the town deserves.

“In the short term it will provide ample employment for people in this town against the economic background the country is facing.”

McManus believes the development will provide “a multiplier effect for the local economy” by attracting new businesses.

Key to the project is £11million of public money, with £6m being injected by St Helens Council for infrastructure works surrounding the stadium and £5m from the North West Development Agency for remediation of the polluted industrial land.

McManus acknowledged the project’s fortune that there had been a long-standing commitment of public money for the site’s regeneration.

He added: “The timing was fine (but) if we were another six months down the road the sources of funding might not have been available.

“We are fortunate it is still there – it is a public, private partnership – and the beneficiaries are both in public and private…a lot private money is being invested also.”

John Downes, managing director of the stadium developers Langtree – said awarding the contract means “people will now see construction activity begin” on the UG site.

He added: “With the stadium at its centre this development will deliver the wholesale regeneration of this brownfield site.

“Following our acquisition of the site over 10 years ago and close liaison between all partners through a detailed planning and tender process, it is very satisfying to see the project finally become a reality.”