WORK has started on a longawaited £4.5million revamp of Leigh’s derelict Grand hotel.

Former Towie star Michael Norcross, who got the green light to turn the Victorian landmark into a boutique hotel back in August 2012, was in town last week and workmen have begun clearing the site.

Mr Norcross said: “I have long admired this iconic building and dreamed of rejuvenating it to reflect the original architecture.

"It has been my desire to bring the quality West End hotel experience to Essex and I see this building and its location as the perfect opportunity to achieve my dream.”

Workmen began cutting back overgrown vegetation at the front and the back of the historic hotel, in Broadway, at the end of last week, so builders can move in equipment.

Excitement built up over the Easter weekend as residents and visitors spotted the piles of branches outside the building.

The reconstruction of the hotel is expected to take 18 months and it could be ready to open in time for Christmas 2015.

It will be renamed the Grand Boutique Hotel and feature 20 bedrooms, a piano lounge, bar, restaurant, tea rooms and luxury spa.

The redevelopment was expected to begin within weeks of Southend Council granting permission in August 2012, but has suffered a series of setbacks.

Mr Norcross told the Echo the main issue delaying the handover of the site was the invasive plant Japanese knotweed. It was found in the site’s car park last year and finally removed in October.

Another hold-up involved Mr Norcross, who owns Brentwood nightclub the Sugar Hut, taking over the lease from the Spirit Pub Company, but this was sorted out in December.

Mr Norcross, from Bulphan, Thurrock, said: “My vision is for this classical building to be used by everyone throughout the community, enjoying quality food and drink and utilising it for various events from weddings and family celebrations to art exhibitions, fashion shows and anything else which would usefully serve the region.”

Ann Price, chairman of the Leigh Society, said: “It’s quite an outstanding building and a great shame it looks the way it does now.

“We would be delighted if it was brought back into operation and used again.”

Caroline Park, chairman of Leigh Town Council, said: “It’s brilliant news. I’m so pleased because there are quite a few doubting Thomases around the town and I really do hope Mick repays my faith.

“I hope he doesn’t let me and Leigh down.”