Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Road charge vote gets green light


Details of the proposed congestion charge for Manchester

A referendum on Greater Manchester's congestion charge will go ahead as planned after a final vote.

Despite some opposition, leaders of the region's 10 councils accepted the question and ballot pack designed by returning officer Sir Neil McIntosh.

Voters will be asked: "Do you agree with the Transport Innovation Fund proposals. Yes or no?"

About 2.8bn of public transport improvements depend on the introduction of the charging scheme by 2013.

Ballot papers for the postal referendum will now be sent out at the end of November and the deadline for replies will be 11 December.

Council leaders also voted for last-minute amendments to the proposals during the meeting of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) on Friday.

Producing a simple question is the most difficult thing in the world
Sir Neil McIntosh, returning officer

They include slight adjustments to inner and outer rings, changes in public transport investment and a reduction in the maximum daily rate from 10 to 5.

Extra school buses, 30,000 extra tram capacity for passengers, a 20% discount on public transport for those on the minimum wage was also included.

But it was the wording of the referendum question that proved the main issue.

Both Stockport and Trafford council leaders - who oppose the charge - pushed for the phrase "congestion charge" included in the question itself, but were out voted.

Stockport Council leader Dave Goddard told the BBC that he believed the public agreed with his stance.

"I think there are 10 people who agree with that question and that's the seven leaders in favour, Lord Peter Smith [AGMA leader], the returning officer and Richard Leese [Manchester city council leader]," said Mr Goddard.

Vehicles such as scooters would be exempt from the charge

"I think 2.4 million people want the words 'congestion charging' in the question."

Returning officer Neil McIntosh has stressed that an accompanying leaflet and pre-amble will outline the full details of the transport plans, including the road charge.

He said: "Producing a simple question is the most difficult thing in the world."

"But the objective has been to try to produce a question and background material that people can decide for themselves."

Under the bid, the region would get 2.8bn to create what has been claimed would be a "world-class public transport system" from the government's transport innovation fund (TIF).

This would be subject to the introduction of a charging scheme in 2013, with the set up costs coming out the TIF money.

A massive publicity campaign is being waged by groups on both sides of the debate ahead of the referendum in December.

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