Everton may not know whether they have the go-ahead to build their proposed new stadium until the beginning of next season.
The public inquiry into the plans to build a new ground in Kirkby in conjunction with Tesco finally ended on Friday after 36 days of evidence.
But it has emerged that the inspector's report will not be presented to the Secretary of State until June, and a final decision is now not expected until the eve of next season.
But Everton's new chief executive Robert Elstone believes the club will still be on course to move to a new ground for the start of the 2011-12 season, if they get the go-ahead.
Everton had expected a decision by the spring, but Elstone said: "We are very happy with the way the inquiry went.
"We answered some tough questions in impressive fashion and, in the course of doing that, were able to put right some misconceptions that had emerged.
"Throughout this process we have been keen to stress there is an urgent need to move (from Goodison Park) and also a unique opportunity not just for Everton but also for the people of Kirkby.
"On that basis, and with the news today it may well be June before the inspector can finalise the report, we have to be certain we can hit the ground running to achieve a 2011 start date for the completed stadium.
"That means we will continue to push on with the project development so Everton can fulfil our side of the bargain as part of the partnership.
"We will be discussing in more detail the timetable with our partners with a view to seeing if there is any way the decision can be accelerated. But I am confident that the powers that be are aware of how important timing is to the overall project."
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