Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 17:18 UK

Council U-turn on C-charge vote

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Details of the proposed referendum

People across Greater Manchester could get to decide whether congestion charging is introduced after a U-turn by council bosses.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said he would back a public vote - if all 10 authorities agreed to abide by the result.

Government funding towards almost 3bn of public transport improvements depend on the charge being introduced in 2013.

Bury, Stockport and Trafford councils are all opposed to the charge.

Previously, it was thought a two-thirds majority by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) would trigger the application for the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) cash.

That would depend on seven authorities agreeing and Bolton has said it would hold its own referendum on the issue.

But the prospect of a region-wide public referendum on the issue - which has so far divided opinion across the region - was floated by Sir Richard Leese on Wednesday.

He told the BBC that Greater Manchester had no formal mechanism for making region-wide decisions and that a public vote seemed the only option - an idea he insists he was always open to.

"Whether it's a U-turn or not is really not the point," he said.

"The point is whether it's the right decision, and if Greater Manchester is going to make one decision - and at the end of this we do have to make one decision - I can't see any other practical way of achieving that.

Sir Richard also denied the decision was in response to fears that the region's authority's may not back the proposals.

He added: "I've got confidence that if we explain what the proposals are then the people of Greater Manchester will say yes.

"This is not about being scared, this is about being confident that this is a really good result for Greater Manchester - and one that Greater Manchester will vote for."

Summer consultation

The announcement was welcomed by Manchester City Council's Liberal Democrat leader Simon Ashley.

"We have been arguing for a long time that we need a referendum. I am glad that Councillor Leese has finally come round to our way of thinking," he said.

"This means that we can have a proper debate about the TIF bid and congestion charging. This is a victory for the people of Greater Manchester."

Campaign group Manchester Against Road Tolls (Mart) also welcomed the U-turn but said questions remained about the scope of public consultations.

"Our main concern is that it would be a fair 'toll poll' and not one where people were subject to a multi-million pound propaganda exercise backed by all the resources of the official spin machines," a spokesman said.

Under the scheme, drivers entering and leaving the city at peak times will be charged for crossing the M60 and a second ring around the city centre.

Alternative options for the final boundaries of the inner ring will be subject to a public consultation over the summer.

According to a recent poll of 1,000 people in Manchester, 62% were against the charge and 86% wanted a referendum.


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