A PRESTIGE car firm is moving its headquarters to a new £10 million building in Bolton - to escape proposed congestion charges in Manchester.

Bosses at Williams BMW say proposals to charge drivers for using roads into the city centre will "destroy Manchester".

And they are predicting Bolton will be a big winner with businesses from Manchester looking to set up in the town.

Bolton's proximity to the motorway network is an added attraction for companies.

WIlliams BMW managing director Nick Cook said people should not underestimate Bolton's strengths.

"We see the congestion charge as a major problem in terms of our staff getting to work," he said.

"The charge will destroy Manchester and the number of companies talking about moving out at the moment is frightening."

Transport bosses last month revealed plans for charges of up to £5 per day for motorists travelling through inner and outer zones around Manchester at peak times. The proposed outer zone would encircle the city close to the M60.

Williams BMW already had plans to open a new showroom in the town to replace its current site in Bradshawgate.

But the threat of congestion charges prompted bosses to move the firm's headquarters, too, from its present base in Chester Road, close to Manchester city centre.

Bolton Council has approved the plans for the company's new head office on the site of Bolton's former greyhound track in Raikes Lane.

Work on the new site will begin in autumn and is due to be completed in August next year.

Mr Cook said his firm could create 30 new jobs within two years.

Fifteen staff from the Manchester head office including bosses, accountants and secretaries will relocate to the new complex, along with 115 employees from the Bradshawgate dealership.

Mr Cook believes more companies will relocate from Manchester.

"If the council can get into a position to take up the slack, this could be a big win for Bolton and will create more jobs in the town," he said.

Prof Stan Oliver, head of business logistics and information systems at the University of Bolton, said: "Cities are becoming expensive places for head office activities and the trend is for things like finance and procurement departments and management services to move out of city centres.

"The congestion charge will encourage that even more and I think we will see an influx of companies from Manchester to Bolton.

"Places like Manchester might always be the attractive sales face of an organisation, but they do not need that for the back office work and somewhere like Bolton is only 15 minutes away by train."

Mr Oliver said Bolton needed to "prepare itself" for the influx.

"The council has got to make sure the premises are available, the road infrastructure is as modern as can be and technological links like wireless internet are here.

"I do think that is happening. There are lots of new office developments going up."

Cllr Nick Peel told fellow planning and highways committee members the Williams move was "a feather in Bolton's cap" as they approved the development, which also includes a workshop, parts store, washing bays, parking areas and a new access off Raikes Lane.

"The fact they are relocating here from Manchester is something for Bolton to be proud of," he said.

Cllr Akhtar Zaman, the council's executive member for regeneration, also welcomed the Williams BMW move, but said: "We don't yet know if congestion charging will happen and it's too early to say what impact it would have on businesses.

"But I think Bolton is in a good position to welcome any company which would like to move to the town and would be good for the town, whatever its reason and wherever it is moving from."