BUSINESSES and councillors have given mixed reactions to news that Bury firms and commuters could be forking out for a congestion charge in five years' time.

Bosses from R&G Construction (Manchester) Ltd, which is based in Heywood Road, Prestwich, said the charge would add significantly to their annual overhead costs.

And the Forum of Private Business said many other companies would be badly hit. The group has called on AGMA to hold a referendum on the road-pricing scheme and said it could have a damaging effect on many small firms.

Campaign manager Victoria Carson said: "Many smaller business have to deliver goods and services when and where customers want them. They cannot avoid busy motorways and city centres.

"Road pricing will damage relations between businesses and their suppliers and push up costs."

Councillor Wilf Davidson, who is chairman of Bury Council's environment and transport group, welcomed the fact that debate had been opened but expressed reservations about the timescale.

"It is important that people are talking about these issues, but those discussions must be joint. I think £3 billion is a good amount but I wonder if it is even enough to improve the public transport network to the standard it needs to be."

He added: "I do not see why we have to have the bid in July and why everything has to be sorted out so quickly. It seems those in charge are in such a rush that they aren't going to spend the time consulting those it will affect."

AGMA leader Lord Peter Smith dismissed criticism of the scheme, saying: "If we fail to address road congestion, Greater Manchester could miss out on 30,000 jobs in the next 15 years. Doing nothing is not an option."

He also added that, rather than being hampered by road pricing, businesses would actually benefit because they would be saving time due to less traffic.

The £3 billion public transport improvement programme would pay for:

  • More bus, Metrolink and train services
  • Up to three yellow school buses for each school in the county
  • A bus priority system e.g. traffic-light sensors which change lights to green when buses approach
  • Park-and-ride schemes close to most M60 junctions
  • Better transport integration to help passengers get from one method of transport to another more conveniently
  • New transport interchange for Altrincham, Bolton, Rochdale and Wigan,
  • A new light railway service for Oldham and Rochdale
  • An Ashton town-centre bypass
  • Segregated bus lanes from Leigh and Bolton to Manchester
  • New Metrolink lines out to Chorlton, Manchester Airport, East Didsbury, Stockport, Droyslden, Trafford and Ashton
  • Improvements to Manchester Victoria train station