A PUBLIC inquiry into the proposed £431million tolled second Mersey crossing will be led by inspector Alan Gray.

The hearing starts on May 19 in Stobart Stadium and is expected to be completed by late July.

Project director Steve Nicholson said: “This date is important as it means, subject to a successful outcome, we remain on track to deliver a new bridge that will open in 2014.

“We are working hard to resolve objections before the inquiry but this is a complex project and some concerns will remain unresolved.”

A pre-inquiry meeting will be held at 10am on Tuesday at The Brindley, when the inspector will set out a detailed timetable for the hearing.

The inquiry will be wide-ranging and examine every aspect of the proposals, including tolling, plans for the existing Runcorn Widnes bridge and the proposed link roads through Widnes and Runcorn.

Planners are confident the Mersey Gateway will create 4,640 permanent new jobs plus 470 temporary construction jobs.

Rush hour journey times will be reduced by 40 per cent in peak periods, reducing daily traffic on the existing bridge by 85 per cent in 2015.

An annual contribution of £61.9billion will be added to Halton’s economy by 2030, an impact report predicts.

The world’s top construction companies are expected to tender to build the iconic bridge. Thirty civil engineering firms have already expressed an interest.

These include Laing O’Rourke which will deliver the London Olympics and Spanish-based Ferrovial, which bought London’s Heathrow Airport.

David Parr, chief executive of Halton Council, said: “This project is about much more than a new bridge.

“The current economic downturn makes these wider benefits of the Mersey Gateway even more crucial for the region.”

Meanwhile executive members of Warrington Borough Council will support plans to build the toll bridge despite fears that traffic through Warrington town centre will increase.

Clr Ian Marks, leader of the council, said: “The idea of having another bridge is a great idea. I think the issue is simply the level of tolls. There are serious issues if there is going to be less traffic using the crossing.

“There are precedents in other parts of the country that show tolls can change. They are not necessarily here forever.”

Clr Bob Barr said a greater charge would encourage more people to use Warrington’s already congested roads to avoid the fees. He said the council should agree to the project at the public inquiry.