THE race for an elected mayor is definitely ON as the petition which demanded one has now been validated.

The petition, which ran to 996 pages, was compiled by MART (Manchester Against Road Tolls) who want a directly elected mayor with real powers to fight the proposed congestion charge.

It contained 9,460 names, and council staff have spent the last three weeks checking the names against the electoral register.

Some 8,207 signatures were valid, well above the 6,961 names that the campaigners needed to force a referendum.

There were 1,253 invalid signatures: 49 had details missing, 118 were duplicates, and 1,086 were either not on the register or did not live in the borough of Bury: one person came from Turkey!

A referendum must now be held within six months, although there are various hoops to go through first. The council will consult the public about the mayoral options available, e.g. whether a mayor would rule alongside a cabinet, or with a chief executive. The poll must also be considered by the government.

Councillor Bob Bibby, the Tory leader of Bury council, says he is personally opposed to elected mayors.

"Not only is this a waste of money that could be used for frontline services, it will also reduce the democratic accountability of the head of the council," he said.

"Currently, the leader of the council is accountable to the executive, his or her group, and all elected members. If the leader started to act against the interests of the borough, he could be ditched with almost no notice, whereas once elected, a mayor can only be ousted after four years.

"If an incumbent leader of any council without an elected mayor decides not to seek re-election, they still have to continue to work in a way that meets with public approval, so as not to cause problems for any of their colleagues that intend to re-stand.

"But in Bedford, for example, where a local newspaper owner won the election, he is not the leader of the largest group, and does not have to follow the same considerations."

Coun Bibby added: "Is it just coincidence that all those saying the current system should be changed are those that have either not managed to get elected, or have been voted out under the current system?"

MART are now petitioning for an elected mayor in Bolton, hoping that the council will become the fourth in Greater Manchester to oppose the congestion charge.