Page last updated at 05:55 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 06:55 UK

Congestion fee question drafted

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How the proposed congestion charge would affect commuters

The wording of the referendum question on the introduction of a congestion charge for Greater Manchester has been drafted.

Almost 3bn in government funds will be be invested in public transport across the county if approved but only if the charge is introduced by 2013.

The proposed wording for the December ballot is: Do you agree with the Transport Innovation Fund proposals?

Greater Manchester's 10 council leaders will vote on the wording on 31 October.

The question does not make any direct reference to the actual congestion charge.

'Absurd' wording

Graham Brady, Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale West, said: "By all means it can mention the Transport Innovation Fund and therefore the money which might be involved in some public transport projects but vitally it has got to mention the tax.

"To have a referendum on the introduction of a congestion charge which doesn't even mention the congestion charge is absurd."

The proposed preamble and question for the referendum was drawn up by Sir Neil McIntosh, the independent returning officer for the referendum, who said he believed his question was "fair, clear and balanced".

"In drawing it up I had to ensure that it accurately reflected fundamental aspects of the proposals and did not lead people in one direction or the other," he said.

The impact of the congestion charge will be felt by everybody in Greater Manchester through higher cost of living and possible job losses
Sean Corker, Manchester Against Road Tolls

"I concluded that a straightforward 'yes' or 'no' question was the easiest to understand.

"However, I consider that it is also necessary for this to be accompanied by accurate neutral information explaining the proposals."

Although opponents of the congestion charge, Manchester Against Road Tolls (MART), believe the wording for the referendum question is fair, they say both sides should be given the opportunity to put their arguments in the accompanying information leaflets sent out with the ballot papers.

They are due to be dispatched in late November following a three-month public consultation over the proposed scheme which ended on Friday.

Sean Corker, spokesman for MART, said: "So far the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority (GMPTA) information campaign has been misleading and biased and anything but neutral.

"The fact is, the scheme will only benefit those travelling into the city centre with the rest of Greater Manchester benefitting very little from the proposals."

'Real issues'

A spokeswoman for The Yes Campaign said businesses in favour of the charge could not understand "attacks on the integrity of the returning officer".

"Now the question has been published we should be getting on with a debate about the real issues," she added.

Under the proposals for the charge - which is expected to cost 318m to set up - motorists would have to pay to cross the M60 and a second ring around the city centre at peak times.

A capped day pass of 10 is proposed for drivers, such as some delivery vehicles which cross charging rings repeatedly at peak times.


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