THE final nail in the coffin of the controversial congestion charge proposals has been hammered in by the region’s political leaders.

A massive public poll last week returned an overwhelming “No” verdict on the scheme, which would have seen £2.7 billion invested in public transport in return for a £5 charge to enter and leave Manchester.

The public vote, which saw all 10 Greater Manchester districts reject the idea, was not legally binding and seven “Yes” votes from council leaders could still have carried it through.

At a specially-convened meeting held in Leigh yesterday, the district leaders had to decide whether to press ahead and bid for government cash in return for introducing the congestion charge.

However, none went against the public’s wishes, despite having spent £33 million on the bid for government cash, including £3 million on a heavily-criticised publicity campaign.

Bolton Council’s leader, Cllr Cliff Morris, was at the meeting, along with the council’s chief executive, Sean Harriss.

Cllr Morris voted “Yes” in the public poll but had always pledged to cast Bolton’s vote according to the wishes of the public.

A resounding 76,910 people in the Borough voted last week to reject the proposals, compared to 20,696 people who wanted to see them go ahead, and Cllr Morris did not deviate from his pledge.

He and the leaders of Bolton’s opposition parties now plan to draw up a “wish list” of transport improvements they believe the borough still needs, despite Greater Manchester rejecting the chance to take advantage of the unprecedented investment.

He said: “The public vote was decisive and I will be entering into collaborative working arrangements with colleagues from other parties to move forward on a basis of consensus.”

Top of the list will be money to still push forward with ambitious plans to build a transport interchange linking a new bus station with Bolton train station.

Under the terms of the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) bid, in return for the congestion charge, Bolton would have received an extra £9 million towards the £25 million interchange, enabling it to be built sooner and to a bigger design.

TIF cash would also have paid for a rapid bus service between Bolton and Manchester, more buses to Bury, Rochdale and Wigan, and improvements to train stations in the borough.