BOLTON'S unique plans to put controversial congestion charge proposals to a public vote could be copied by every Greater Manchester borough.

The council had been the only one of the region's 10 local authorities to pledge to base its vote on the result of a local referendum.

Previously, it was thought a two-thirds majority by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities would trigger the application for the Transport Innovation Fund cash. That would depend on seven authorities agreeing.

With six councils in favour of a congestion charge in return for £3 billion for public transport improvements, and three against, Bolton was to cast the decisive vote.

But yesterday, in a dramatic U-turn, Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said he would back a region-wide vote on the condition that all 10 authorities agreed to be bound by the result.

He said that despite generally being "not in favour of referendums" because councillors were elected to make decisions on the public's behalf, individual councils making up their own minds would lead to "chaos".

Last night, Bolton Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris welcomed the announcement. He said: "This is a Greater Manchester-wide decision and as we don't have a directly elected Greater Manchester-wide body to make the decision a Greater Manchester-wide poll would be appropriate. In Bolton, we have said there should be a poll."

Conservative leader Cllr John Walsh said the U-turn was a sign of Labour "panicking" ahead of a vote on Friday to decide the next chairman of the region's passenger transport authority.

Cllr Walsh said retaining control of the authority was vital for Labour if it was to "control the spin" being put on the congestion charge. He said: "I welcome a referendum as I believe the overwhelming majority are against the charge. The Government should be investing this money in public transport anyway."

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Roger Hayes was pleased Manchester may follow Bolton's lead, but he called for borough-by-borough results to be published after a referendum.

"If they go for overall Greater Manchester figures whatever the majority, then that is making the decision for everyone."