GREATER Manchester is set to push ahead with plans to introduce a city centre congestion charge. Part of the proposal also calls for charges in the towns outside the M60 ringroad but Bolton Council is opposed to local charges . . .

MANCHESTER might not have a Ken Livingstone figure to force through controversial measures like congestion charging.

But the basic argument appears to be already won in many councillors' minds.

They say congestion is getting worse and many roads into the city centre are virtually gridlocked during the two daily rush hours.

The belief is that with clean, cheap, frequent and, above all, heavily subsidised, public transport, many people would leave their cars at home and congestion would be virtually eliminated.

But as eight of Greater Manchester's 10 councils, including Bolton, have already voted for the introduction of a congestion charge for drivers entering Manchester city centre, it seems charging will eventually happen whether the public wants it or not.

The councils are making a bid for £3bn from the government's Transport Innovation Fund (TIF), which is only available if congestion charges are introduced.

Conservative-controlled Trafford and Lib-Dem led Stockport voted against charges and several opinion polls have found the public is also opposed.

In return for the funding, ministers are demanding 31 public transport improvements which would put more than 200 extra buses on the region's roads, complete the tram system, including a line to Manchester international airport, and add extra carriages to crowded trains.

The charge of £5 a day for drivers to enter Manchester city centre would only be introduced once all public transport improvements were complete - likely to be autumn 2012 at the earliest.

Drivers would pay a deposit for an electric tag, which will monitor journeys on 15 main routes into the city in the morning and evening rush periods.

For an area bordered by the M60 Outer Ring road, the costs would be: £2 to enter 7-9.30am and £1 to leave 4-6.30pm on weekdays.

For an inner ring, the cost would be £1 to enter 7-9.30am and £1 to leave 4-6.30pm on weekdays The location of the intermediate ring will be determined later.

There would be no charge between the hours of 9.30am-4pm weekdays, or at nights and weekends.

The plans envisage discounts for vulnerable groups, essential service vehicles will not be charged and delivery drivers will pay a capped rate.

Even in the busy periods, journeys which do not pass a charging point will not incur a fee.

Number plate recognition systems will be used to catch drivers who should pay but fail to do so.

Sir Richard Leese, deputy leader of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA), said: "If we don't tackle rising congestion, our growth path will be affected: business costs will continue to rise, labour markets will shrink and some 30,000 jobs will be lost to the area."

But opponents of the scheme have doubts about whether it is the correct route to take.

The Road Haulage Association wants lorries to be excluded, and a spokesman said: "The tax would be difficult for many hauliers to recover from customers and load them with more red tape."

Drivers could also be paying tolls to travel in and out of Bolton town centre by 2013.

Details in a document seen by Bolton councillors suggests that congestion charging zones could be set up outside central Manchester. They would be introduced 12 months after charges are brought in for motorists travelling inside the M60 ring road.

Bolton Council leader Cliff Morris has repeated his vow to oppose any such moves.

A report which went before the Association of Greater Manchester Councils in May, outlines details of association's proposed bid for £3 billion of Government funding.

But it also reveals that new "charging corridors" could be added in a second phase of the toll system.

The report says: "This could involve, for example, the addition of charging corridors around the town centres outside the M60."

It also makes clear that charging is "not about a single scheme . . . but a wider and evolving programme".

But Cllr Morris has said: "We do not support a congestion charge for Bolton and would oppose any such scheme for the town in the future.

"There is the option for the council to withdraw from the scheme at a later date if we are not happy with future elements of the bid."

Greater Manchester is among 10 areas in England which have government money to develop possible congestion-beating plans in the hope of getting finance under the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF).

Manchester will seek £1bn from the TIF, and plans to borrow a further £2bn, which will be repaid by income from the congestion fees.

Motoring groups have reacted with anger to the announcement, with the Manchester Against Tolls group describing the plan as "bad for drivers all over Britain"

The group called the maximum £5 charge a "Trojan horse" and said this would just be the start of charges for road users.

"Ken Livingstone has already demonstrated in London what will happen - he increased the £5 charge to £8 and has doubled the size of the charge zone," a spokesman said.