COUNCIL chiefs in Bolton are to back a bid for £3 billion from the Government to improve public transport.

But it could pave the way for congestion charging in the Greater Manchester area.

A meeting of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) - which comprises the 10 local authorities in the area - will decide on Friday whether to submit formally the bid for the £3 billion from the Government's regional Transport Innovation Fund (TIF).

If the bid is successful, one result could be that congestion charging in introduced and from 2012 drivers could pay up to £5 per day to drive into central Manchester.

Bolton has been identified as a potential area for further road charging schemes in later phases, but that is a move the town's leadership strongly opposes.

However, a meeting of Bolton Council's executive yesterday gave its support to the AGMA bid for the £3 billion.

Council leader Cliff Morris said: "We will accept that the bid goes forward and will then come back for a wider public debate before making a final decision on the next phase - congestion charging."

Some 500 Bolton residents were interviewed as part of the regional consultation.

Bolton's Conservative group leader John Walsh opposed the bid. He said: "This has been a relatively short consultation process for what is the biggest single commitment this council will be undertaking. I'm concerned that we don't know what lies beyond this bid submission.

"It's premature and should be deferred and looked at in more detail because once that bid goes in, there's no going back."

He said Bolton residents should not be paying a "stealth tax" for rail stock following the announcement by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, yesterday, that 1,300 extra carriages are to be introduced on to Britain's rail network.

Bolton's Lib Dem leader Roger Hayes said: "I think most people agree that congestion is a problem affecting the environment and the economy, but the people of Bolton deserve to be consulted again, more fully.

"We need to submit the bid and see what's really in it for the town and give the leader the opportunity to negotiate something better for Bolton."