BURY people are to get a referendum on the controversial plans for a congestion charge.

Council leaders say they have listened to people's concerns and will soon agree to hold a vote in the new year.

A decision will be formally made at next month's council meeting. Although Tory leader Bob Bibby has not guaranteed a full referendum, his Labour counterpart Wayne Campbell says the majority wants one and he fully expects the meeting to sanction it.

The decision will be keenly awaited, among others, by anti-charge group Manchester Against Road Tolls (MART).

Its campaigners have been raising a petition which would trigger a vote for a directly elected US-style mayor, who would then ditch the charge. They have almost reached the number of signatures they need and they promise to force a poll if councillors do not give local people a vote on the charge.

They are unhappy that Bury, unlike other councils, did not seek local views before supporting a bid to the TIF (Transport Innovation Fund). The bid would give Greater Manchester £3 billion for public transport, but 60 per cent of it would have to be paid back through a congestion charge of up to £5 a day to enter the city during weekday rush hours.

MART originally set last week's council meeting as the deadline for a referendum, but will now wait until the December 12 meeting after hearing that it will be formally raised then.

Council leader Bob Bibby said: "I have committed to providing for a debate on seeking the public's views of the TIF bid at the council meeting next month.

"When the wording of the motion is finalised it will be circulated with the agendas as usual.

"The council will make a considered decision that is right for the people of Bury. We will not rush to a decision under duress from any single-issue pressure group."

Geoffrey Berg, local petition organiser for MART, said: "If the council passes a resolution to hold a referendum on congestion charging, we will not pursue a mayoral referendum on this issue in Bury. Our objectives would have been successful. We would then bring pressure to bear on neighbouring councils in the hope that they will follow suit."

At last week's meeting, Coun Bibby tried to explain why his group had supported the TIF bid despite claiming to be against congestion charging.

"It was what any responsible council would have done, rather than a bigoted rejection of the biggest public transport scheme outside London," he told members. "We voted to submit the bid on the condition that it did not commit us to congestion charging. It's not a given' that we cannot have public transport investment without congestion charging."

Labour leader Coun Wayne Campbell told the Bury Times Group that his group wanted a referendum - and would support the people's vote.

"A lot of questions have not been answered in the TIF bid," he said. "Just by charging people, does it make everything better, or is it just a stealth tax? We've got to encourage people out of their cars - we should put more emphasis on that, and less on penalising them."

Coun Campbell wanted a number of debates to be held around the borough, where people like MART and the Passenger Transport Authority could argue their case.

"We would want the public to hear the full debate before they express a view on it. Hopefully we can get that up and running before any referendum, and give both sides a chance to put their view across."