BUILDERS will begin work on York's long awaited Community Stadium next month after contracts were finally signed.

Diggers are moving onto the site before Christmas after Greenwich Leisure Ltd were given the green light to take possession of the Monks Cross land.

The firm will also take over the operation of Energise Leisure Centre and Yearsley Swimming Pool, as part of the wider new stadium and leisure contract, from December 1.

Cllr David Carr, Leader of City of York Council said: "This is a huge step forward. I am delighted that this major project is at last moving forward with construction workers on site before Christmas.

“We have always been committed to delivering the Community Stadium and accompanying facilities which, once complete, will be a great asset for the city and residents."

Once complete in 2019, the new Community Stadium will boast an 8,000 all-seater to host the homes games of York City FC and York City Knights.

There are also ambitious plans to build a swimming pool, gym, dance studio, indoor and outdoor climbing facilities and a sports hall.

A cinema complex, including an IMAX screen, five restaurants and up to three shops are planned too, as well as NHS outpatient services, a new library and York Against Cancer shop.

Cllr Ann Reid, Liberal Democrat interim Executive Member for Leisure, Culture and Tourism, added: “I am delighted that the contracts have finally been signed and construction can begin shortly.

“The Liberal Democrats have continuously pushed to get this project off the ground, right from the word ‘go’.”

However, two earlier tenants - York St John University and equipment loan service Be Independent - have already backed out of the project.

The university had planned an Institute of Community Sport in the east stand, but pulled out in 2015 saying changes to its own property made the stadium deal “commercially unviable”.

Last month city councillors also agreed to take on another £1.4 million risk on the project, because the restaurant units had not yet been filled.

Yesterday, officials confirmed that risk was still in place, but said they were in discussions with a number of interested parties about the units.

The stadium project has been beset with delays - most recently because of a legal challenge launched by Vue cinemas which the council won in January.

Labour Group Leader, Cllr Janet Looker said: "It will be around a decade since this project began to be talked about by the time it is completed, so we hope there is no more slippage.

"We also hope as the scheme nears completion that there is plenty of communication on the wider benefits of the project beyond the stadium, such as NHS services, library, swimming and other leisure facilities to ensure the public benefit is clear for all to see”.