TOWN Hall bosses have said NO to a congestion charge, which brings the project perilously close to failure.

Bury is now the third council in Greater Manchester to oppose the levy, and just one more would leave the controversial plan with less than the two-thirds majority it needs.

Councillors at last week's full council meeting also called for Manchester-wide consultation on the charge, although stopped short of holding a full referendum in Bury. This was a demand made by campaigners of MART (Manchester Against Road Tolls), who say they will now press ahead with seeking a directly elected mayor for the borough to oppose charging.

Thanks to the Lib Dems and Tories, the council has now promised to vote against any TIF (Transport Innovation Fund) bid if it included a congestion charge.

The TIF bid would give Greater Manchester £3 billion for public transport, but two-thirds of the money would be borrowed and paid back through a congestion charge of perhaps £5 a day to enter and leave the city at peak times. Trafford and Stockport have already declared their opposition to charging.

Prestwich councillor Richard Baum said the charge was another stealth tax from a money-grabbing government. "The government owes it to the people to give us what we need - quality public transport," he said. "People already pay for public transport through their taxes, but now the government wants us to pay for it again through charges, which I don't think is right."

Coun Baum said that poor people would suffer most from a charge, businesses did not like it, and it was unfair to charge people hundreds of pounds to drive to work.

"Manchester will be a big city with a big tax," he said. "It will a Transport Injustice Fund."

His Lib Dem colleague Tim Pickstone said Bury was "flexing its muscles" and it was a proud night for the borough. He said the Crossrail scheme in London, and new tram system in Edinburgh, were being funded out of national taxation. "Why can we not do that in Greater Manchester?" he said.

But Labour leader Wayne Campbell said: "We are making decisions before we know the outcome of the bid. I am not saying that a congestion charge is the right thing, but we should debate it at the right time."

His deputy Mike Connolly added: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for investment in public transport, and your opposition is putting it all at risk."

Prestwich resident Geoffrey Berg, local petition organiser for MART, said: "I am amazed that Bury Council should try and commit other councils to a referendum, which it has no power to do, while making no commitment on its own part to holding one.

"That is completely unsatisfactory, and we will be submitting our petition for an elected mayor in the New Year."