A SECOND Mersey bridge could receive outline government approval within just two weeks, it has been revealed.
Supporters of the Mersey Gateway campaign are hoping to receive the green light before a general election is called, almost certainly in early April.
On Saturday a speciallycommissioned VLM flight from John Lennon Airport (JLA) took invited guests from key public and private bodies on a 30-minute flight over the site of the current bridge - and the nearby site of the intended new crossing.
Cllr Tony McDermott, chairman of the Mersey Gateway Campaign and leader of Halton Council, told guests: "We delivered a full set of documents to the Department for Transport a few months ago and we are hopeful of a decision within the next couple of weeks.
"If we have to resort to a Plan B then it will have to come from the Government but I don't think they will turn us down."
Cllr McDermott also criticised the authors of the recentlyproduced Northern Way document which failed to give any prominence to a second crossing.
"They have a lot to learn," he said. "This crossing is one of the most important schemes because it actually links the northern way to the southern way."
As captain Phil Greenfield made several passes over the Mersey Estuary at just 700ft, Halton's chief executive, David Parr, spoke of the key regional economic sites which would benefit from the improved links a second bridge would deliver.
The planned Ditton strategic rail freight terminal, Daresbury Park and the Jaguar plant at Halewood were just three of those he highlighted.
He also spoke of how conscious the bridge campaigners were of protecting the Mersey estuary and the environment around it but said the case for a new crossing was overwhelming.
Mr Parr said: "The current bridge is a pinch point, a blocked artery, an inhibitor of the continued regeneration of the area. The total cost of a new bridge to the DfT is £200m over a 30-year mortgage period and £62m up front to buy and clear the land.
"That is around £8m per year compared to the £4m a year we already spend on the current Silver Jubilee bridge just on maintenance.
"A new bridge will continue the development of the Liverpool city region and the wider geographical area."
Among those lending their support to the campaign on Saturday were Colin Tivey, director of manufacturing at Jaguar, John Flamson, from Merseyside's Objective 1 programme, and Steve McGuirk, chief fire officer for Cheshire.
Mr McGuirk said: "No one wants to imagine a September 11-style terrorist attack in the region but at the moment if it happened everything could just clog up because of the concentration around the bridge."
Another major supporter to recently back the Mersey Gateway campaign is Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, and Littlewoods, which is relocating its Home Shopping division and 1,200 staff to the Estuary Business Park in Speke.
Alistair McGeorge, chief executive of Littlewoods Home Shopping, said: "Speke provides us with good access to the M62, Liverpool city centre and John Lennon Airport, but we believe it is vital that the Mersey Gateway is built as it will make a vital contribution to the continued regeneration of the region."
If the Government gives the green light next month, detailed work towards the submission of a planning application will increase. A public inquiry would follow with the hope a new bridge could be in place by 2012.