COUNCIL leaders have been challenged to hold a referendum on congestion charging on July 3 - the same day as the poll to elect a mayor.

Geoffrey Berg, whose petition forced the July 3 vote, says the proposed charge is far more important to residents than who runs the town hall.

Bolton Council has agreed to hold a referendum on charging, and Rochdale Council was to discuss doing likewise at its meeting last night.

"This would separate the two issues," says Mr Berg, in a letter to the council's party leaders.

"Otherwise the issue of an elected mayor will probably, and properly in those circumstances, be overshadowed by congestion charging when the votes are cast."

Mr Berg adds: "I would remind you that whether Bury is run by a council leader or by a directly-elected mayor is a matter of little more than academic interest to most Bury residents.

"By contrast, the question of whether congestion charging is to proceed has potentially huge adverse financial consequences on many people personally.

"In the absence of a double referendum, many people will clearly - and in my view, quite rightly - vote in a way to avoid landing themselves with a huge extra bill as their primary concern, irrespective of what the consequences may be to the system of governance of this borough."

Bury Council has consistently refused to offer residents a vote on the congestion charge.

It has, however, promised to vote against the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) scheme if it includes congestion charging.

The TIF bid provides £3 billion to improve public transport in Greater Manchester, but two-thirds of the money is to be paid back through a congestion charge.

The Bury Times understands that the Government will announce next month whether the TIF bid is successful.

A special meeting of the council will be held tonight to discuss the outcome of the consultation which closed last Friday.