CONGESTION charge opponents are petitioning for a directly elected mayor in Bury who would kick out the scheme.

They need just over 7,000 signatures from local people which would automatically trigger a referendum to have a US-style mayor.

Leaders of MART (Manchester Against Road Tolls) are unhappy that the council did not hold a poll of Bury residents before agreeing to submit a bid for £3 billion of investment in public transport, allied to a congestion charge of up to £5 a day to enter the city at peak times on weekdays.

Neil Cardwell, MART spokesman, said: "When AGMA voted together with Bury Council to bid for a driving tax, they decided not to ask local people whether they wanted crippling extra taxes. We are determined to give Bury people a vote, so we intend to collect an 8,000-signature petition which will trigger a referendum for a new town mayor, who will ultimately have the power to withdraw Bury from the scheme." He added: "The drive for a Bury referendum is in sharp contrast to the action of Stockport and Trafford councils where political leaders commissioned local opinion polling which showed overwhelming opposition to the tax plans. We want to make the leader and deputy leader of Bury council, Bob Bibby and Yvonne Creswell, listen to the views of the people they claim to represent."

There are 141,968 electors in the borough, and five per cent (7,099) are needed to sign the petition and call a vote.

MART's call co-incides with news that council leaders in Greater Manchester have spent £9.8 million on consultants and surveys to prepare the Transport Innovation Fund bid. The Government is meeting £3.2 million of this, leaving the Passenger Transport Authority - to which Bury contributes - to find the rest.

This year, Bury gave the PTA £10.9 million, which is seven per cent of the PTA's take from the ten GM councils.

If the £6.6 million extra needed to pay for the TIF bid was split in the same way, it would mean Bury's share was £460,000, or around £6 per household. But Councillor Yvonne Creswell, deputy leader of Bury council, said: "We have not paid any additional money to the Passenger Transport Authority specifically for the TIF bid.

"This is a competitive bid, and the case put to the government for an improved transport system has to be based on solid evidence and expert opinion.

"This involves hiring specialist consultants and conducting in-depth research.

"There is clearly a cost involved, but it is vital to establish the best way forward for the benefit of Bury residents."

l BURY people narrowly rejected the idea of an elected mayor when the question last arose in 2001.

The council carried out an opinion poll, offering residents three options: the current system, where councillors choose their leader and cabinet; a directly elected US-style mayor answerable to the public, with a cabinet chosen by the council; or a directly elected mayor who sets policies which are carried out by a manager appointed by the council.

Some 4,300 residents responded, and 49 per cent of them voted for the status quo.

Some 33 per cent chose the second option, and 13 per cent the mayor-plus-manager alternative.