THE £1m transformation of Port Sunlight's historic Lady Lever Art Gallery could start at the end of the summer.

Owners National Museums Liverpool hope Wirral's planning inspectorate will grant permission for a package of work that includes installing an access ramp, creating a new foyer and improving educational facilities.

Sandra Penketh, the gallery head, told the Globe: "The plans we have are in keeping with Lever's vision for the gallery and they will be sympathetic to the building. For instance, the entrance was originally designed as a grand reception space and we hope to utilise the original entrance."

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has stepped in to help the project with a £225,000 grant. Among the plans are improved education facilities for schools and an exhibition focusing on the gallery's founder.

Ms Penketh said: "We have spoken to many visitors about our plans and the feedback from the public has been extremely positive so far. Visitor numbers last year increased to 140,000 last year and we need more people coming into the building."

William Lever founded the Lever Brothers soap factory and created the gallery, in Lower Road, in memory of his wife.

If approved, it is hoped work will be able to start by the end of August. Ms Penketh added: "There are no definite dates, but we're hoping to start towards the end of summer to make sure that it will be ready for 2007."

Created by William Hesketh Lever to help enrich the cultural aspects of his workforce's lives the gallery was opened by Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Beatrice in 1922.