BOLTON’S MPs are split over controversial plans to introduce a congestion charge in return for massive Government investment in public transport.

The division has opened up as thousands of households in Bolton receive their ballot papers for a public vote on the issue.

The proposals would see two charge rings introduced around the M60 and Manchester city centre, with motorists paying up to £5 a day to cross them at peak times.

In return, the Government has pledged to spend £2.7 billion on improving the region’s trains, buses and trams in the form of £1.5 billion in investment and a £1.2 billion loan which would be paid back using proceeds from the charge.

But Bolton North-east MP David Crausby has criticised the proposals for being unfair and vowed to vote “no”, while his Labour colleagues Brian Iddon, MP for Bolton South-east, and Ruth Kelly, the Bolton West MP, are backing the idea.

Mr Crausby, who has joined the official “No” campaign which is supported by several high-profile Tory politicians as well as businesses and motoring groups, said: “I will be voting against it. People shouldn’t be penalised for using their car. I don’t see any substantial benefits for Bolton.”

As part of the deal, Bolton would get £9 million towards a £25 million bus-rail interchange already planned for Bolton town centre, enabling a more ambitious version to be built in 2010 rather than in 2012.

The Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) cash would also pay for a new rapid bus service between Bolton and Manchester, more frequent buses to Bury, Rochdale and Wigan, and improvements at train stations throughout the borough.

But Mr Crausby said the outer charging ring would cause misery for Bolton residents who work elsewhere in Greater Manchester.

However, he agreed something needed to be done to tackle congestion. Dr Iddon has lobbied for public transport improvements for years.

He said: “Bolton desperately needs a new railway station, integrated with its bus station. We now have an opportunity to make the biggest investment in our transport services that we have seen in a lifetime. I urge everyone to support the TIF bid in the forthcoming ballot.”

Former transport secretary Ms Kelly said she would also be voting ‘yes’ and has even been handing out leaflets at Westhoughton train station.

She said: “I fully support the proposed improvements in public transport which the TIF bid offers. Nine out of 10 residents in my constituency, as well as Greater Manchester as a whole, stand to benefit from the £3 billion of extra investment on offer and lower-income families in particular stand to gain from 20 per cent discounted fares. I urge residents to consider the clear benefits of these proposals over the next fortnight.”

An online poll on this website this week showed an overwhelming majority were against the proposals.