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By ESPN Staff

Everton set for six-week stadium inquiry

Everton face what could prove a defining point in the history of the club this week when the public inquiry into their proposed new stadium gets under way.

The Toffees insist they will not be able to compete in the Premier League without a new home.

And on Wednesday the expected six-week inquiry will start at the Kirkby Suite in Kirkby town centre.

Everton, along with Tesco, their partners in the construction of a new stadium planned in Kirkby, will have to convince a Government inspector - who will report directly to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears - to dismiss opposition to the £400m scheme.

The pending sale of the club and it's future funding depends, claim Everton, on getting the go-ahead to move away from Goodison Park.

Last week deal-maker Keith Harris, who has been involved in trying to find a buyer for the club, suggested ground sharing and even claimed that it was hard to sell the Merseyside outfit.

He quickly retracted that damaging remark, and Everton's acting chief executive Robert Elstone insisted the club were optimistic about the upcoming inquiry.

He said: "We are still hoping for a favourable decision sometime in the spring, perhaps by early March.

"We are aiming for a two-year building programme which would mean a start date in early summer (next year). We hope a positive decision will allow us to take occupancy and start playing football there in August 2011."

But Everton are facing formidable objections at the inquiry, although it is supported by Knowsley Council.

The opposition comes from Liverpool City Council, Sefton Council, the Kirkby Action group of local residents opposed to the scheme, as well as the Keep Everton In Our City group of Goodison fans.

The inquiry is due to last until mid-January, and Everton hope then that inspector Wendy Burden will make favourable recommendations to the secretary of state.

Elstone said: "Going into the inquiry we are very confident, but I know the objectors are confident."

Elstone added in an interview with the Liverpool Daily Post: "The Premier League is moving at a phenomenal pace and that is because of clubs which have billionaire benefactors or modern stadiums which they are able to fill.

"Everton has neither. We are struggling to keep pace with our rivals and with the economics of this league.

"The issue of alternatives is that this club has been looking for an alternative or to develop Goodison Park for probably a dozen years.

"These options have not come to fruition because they are not feasible, deliverable and most of all they are not affordable."

If Everton fail to win this final battle for a new stadium, they know their ability to challenge at the top of the Premier League and the chance of a sale to a big-money new owner could both be severely hampered.

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