CONGESTION charges could be introduced on Bolton's busiest roads under controversial new proposals put forward by transport chiefs.

Motorists would face charges for rush hour journeys to and from work.

The plans are an attempt to persuade motorists to use public transport The Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE) will discuss the proposals tomorrow.

They centre around Manchester and the main commuter routes that lead to the city. But arterial routes into Bolton town centre, including Wigan Road, Blackburn Road, Bury Road, Tonge Moor Road and the A666 St Peter's Way could also be affected.

A spokesman for the GMPTE said: "It's not just journeys to Manchester city centre. We will be looking at the other centres in Greater Manchester and the busiest roads into them."

The plan is aimed at unlocking £1 billion in Government funding for improvements to the bus, tram and rail networks. The money is only available to authorities which consider road charging.

Council leaders have promised no charges will be introduced until "significant investment in public transport improvements" are made.

Exact details of the proposals - which would see high-tech charging methods such as electronic tagging, licence plate recognition or satellite tracking introduced - are yet to be finalised.

Bolton Council leader Councillor Cliff Morris will represent the borough at tomorrow's meeting of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities.

The association has outlined plans to consult residents, businesses and other interested parties and stressed charges would only be applied to areas where congestion was a problem.

Neither would the charging scheme be implemented unless it was acceptable to both the public and business leaders and "did not" undermine the competitiveness of town centres in the area".

Cllr Morris said: "I am aware Bolton residents may have concerns about the details of the proposed scheme.

"It is important to note we are not looking at a London-style charging system which imposes cost irrespective of the time of day, length of journey, origin or destination."

But he added: "Doing nothing is not an option as congestion is starting to have an adverse impact on both the economy and the environment."

Drivers in London pay £8 per day to enter an eight square-mile zone of the city - an equivalent of £2,000 per year.

GMPTE says Bolton commuters are unlikely to pay that much. Charging is likely to be based on the length of journey, with drivers paying each time they pass specific traffic hotspots at peak time.

Bolton North-east MP David Crausby said: "I don't think a congestion charge in Bolton would be appropriate. All it would do is drive business people and shoppers in Bolton elsewhere."

Bolton Liberal Democrat Party transport spokesman Councillor David Wilkinson said: "I'm not against road charging in principle but we must wait until public transport improvements are in place. However, I don't think this government will wait that long and will impose the system anyway."

Councillor Phil Ashcroft, Conservative regeneration spokesman, said: "We would be totally against something like that. Something has to be done but caning the motorist every time is not the way."