A CONGESTION ring is to be thrown around Greater Manchester to charge motorists for heading into the city, the Bury Times can reveal.

Transport bosses will tomorrow unveil how much drivers will have to pay, and on which roads, to get to work on the county's busiest routes.

The Bury Times understands that there will be two pricing zones: one bordered by the M60, which will include the main roads through Prestwich, and a second zone covering the city centre. Thousands of Bury residents will be affected, as more than 40 per cent leave the borough to work. It comes amid Government proposals for road pricing, which would allow towns to charge motorists by the mile. Manchester is again at the forefront of this idea, and could trial it by 2012.

Tomorrow's presentation will be made to the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA). Members are expected to sanction a bid for £2.4 billion from the Government's Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) for a "big bang" approach to the county's traffic needs.

The Greater Manchester scheme will operate differently from London's. There will be a two-hour period during the morning rush hour when drivers entering the outer zone will pay perhaps £1, and a further £2 for driving into the centre. The same will apply in the afternoon rush hour, with charges for leaving the city. Prices would only apply to weekdays.

Gantries over main arterial roads will read a "smart card" which drivers would top up with credit, or book in advance. Those entering a zone without doing either will be fined.

Sources say there is much work to do on the precise location and number of gantries, how to stop people using "rat runs" to avoid charges, and whether those on low incomes might be helped.

They will consult business leaders and communities, and submit the bid in July. A decision is not expected for nine months, when the scheme will be finalised and more consultation carried out.

Bosses say the "big bang" is needed because Manchester is the fastest growing economy outside London, with 210,000 extra jobs forecast over the next decade.

The TIF money will pay for the new tram lines to Oldham and Rochdale, Ashton and Manchester Airport. It will also fund 500 new buses, including yellow school buses, and give local bosses greater powers to determine routes, timetables and fares.

Politicians have been lukewarm about congestion charging: but the TIF deal says that half a billion pounds of the total should be raised through such charges, and put back into improving transport.