ANTI-congestion charge campaigners are calling for Bolton to have an elected mayor.

Manchester Against Road Tolls (MART) campaigners say directly electing a London-style mayor would be the only way to give people in the borough a referendum on the proposed congestion charge.

They have started a petition to try to force a poll to find out if people in Bolton are in favour of an elected mayor, which would replace the council leader's role and have greater power over policy, budget and senior appointments.

Campaigner Stuart Chapman, of Patterdale Road, Harwood, said: "We can't force Bolton Council to hold a referendum on congestion charging but we can force the council to have a referendum on having a more accountable directly-elected mayor who would do just that."

Government rules mean the support of five per cent of Bolton's 201,294 voters - 10,064 people - is needed to trigger a mayoral referendum.

A majority in favour would see the role of mayor created, allowing MART to field an anti-congestion charge candidate.

The group has already gathered around 1,400 signatures from people in Westhoughton, Farnworth, Kearsley and Breightmet, and members this week handed a similar petition to Bury Council.

Congestion charging has been proposed for roads into Manchester by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, alongside a bid for £3billion of Government funding for public transport improvements, including a new transport interchange at Bolton railway station.

Nearly £2billion would be repaid using proceeds from the charge.

But Mr Chapman, aged 50, fears road charging could be extended to towns like Bolton.

He said: "The congestion charge will penalise working people for whom it is not feasible to use public transport."

Council and Labour group leader Cllr Cliff Morris, who backed the transport bid, said: "I will study the petition when it is received. However, I do not believe a directly-elected mayor is the way forward."

Conservative group leader, Cllr John Walsh, who opposes the charge, said: "They are confusing two issues and I don't think it is helpful to give such power to an individual."

Cllr Roger Hayes, the Liberal Democrat group leader, said: "An elected mayor would be bad for democracy. They would be better doing a petition asking for a referendum on the congestion charge."

Since 2001, 35 UK councils have held votes on whether to introduce and elected mayor, with people voting in favour in 13 areas.