PLANS for a directly-elected mayor in Bury are dead in the water after residents voted against them.

The council will continue to be run by a leader and executive committee, with the mayor as an honorary position.

A total of 15,425 people voted No at the polls last Thursday, while 10,338 votes were cast in favour of the proposals. There were 28 spoilt votes.

Less than one in five voters — 18.25 per cent — turned out for the referendum. The highest turnout was in North Manor, where 27.68 per cent of people voted, while just 14 per cent went to the polls in Radcliffe East.

If the referendum had ended in a Yes vote, it would have led to a summer of campaigning before a mayoral election on October 16.

It was estimated the yearly cost of a mayor in office would be in the region of £250,000 a year — amounting to £1 million over a four-year term.

The decision would have remained in place for ten years before the council could revert back to its current political make-up.

The referendum was triggered by a local petition organised through MART (Manchester Against Road Tolls), which wanted to see a mayor publicly elected who would oppose congestion charging.

They collected signatures from 8,207 people — more than five per cent of voters — in support of a change of administration.

The council was forced to hold a legally-binding referendum, despite already announcing that it would oppose plans for a congestion charge in Greater Manchester.

Leading campaigner, Prestwich resident Geoffrey Berg, was disappointed with the result, which was announced at 12.15am on Friday at Bury Town Hall.

He said: “The result is disappointing, but the situation had changed substantially from when we decided to go ahead with a campaign for a mayoral referendum in Bury. At that time, the leader of the council had decided that the council should support the submission of the road tolls scheme, and there was a reluctance to agree to hold a referendum in Bury on the tolls issue.

“Since then the position of the council has changed and they now say that they no longer support the tolls scheme, so many people will have thought that there was no point in voting. If the council had adopted this position from the start, it would have saved everyone a lot of time and expense.”

But councillors from all three political parties welcomed the No vote from the borough’s residents.

Councillor Bob Bibby, leader of the council, said: “I am delighted that the people of Bury have voted No and we can now get on with business as usual, looking after the needs of the people in the borough. This whole situation has been a ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ money.

“It had nothing to do with congestion charging and I am glad that Bury residents realised the true meaning of the referendum and its implications.”

Coun Wayne Campbell, leader of the Labour party in Bury, said: “I am really pleased with the result. It was a vote for common sense. There was a very low turnout and I think that shows what the public thinks of an elected mayor.”

Coun Tim Pickstone, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “The Lib Dems in Bury campaigned hard for a No vote in the referendum, and I am glad that the idea of an elected mayor has been rejected by local people.

“The issue of the mayor was always about more than the congestion charge. A mayor would have meant a less democratic system for local people, and would have cost a small fortune every year.

“Liberal Democrats believe that decisions should be taken in local communities, not by one person at the town hall.

“We also believe that taxpayers’ money should be spent on better services and lower taxes, not on a big car and a big office for an elected mayor.”

Concerns were also raised about the amount of money that the council was forced to spend on the referendum - around £120,000.

Coun Bibby said: “If Mr Berg does the decent thing and sends a cheque worth £120,000 to the council, I will be delighted.”

A council spokesman said: "The council is concerned about the cost of the referendum to the local tax-payer, for what may have been considered an opportunistic attempt to disrupt delivery of local services in an effort to oppose congestion charging.”

However, the council does not intend to formally pursue MART to recoup the cost of the referendum.

Mr Berg said: “The notion that I or any of the 8,000 signatories should pay for the referendum is anti-democratic. We were only exercising a legal right and we got substantial support from the people.”

* MART has since released a statement announcing that Geoffrey Berg’s actions no longer represent the views of the organisation. A majority of members in the group were against the petition being submitted to the council, triggering the mayoral referendum. MART says it will no longer campaign for elected mayors in Greater Manchester.

Sean Corker, MART spokesman, said: “There was a fundamental disagreement because of the way Mr Berg had submitted the Bury petition. Bury Council had changed its position on congestion charging and therefore the petition had done its job.”

Mr Berg, however, insists that he is still a member of the group.

Voter turnout (per cent) Total 18.25 Elton 18.72 North Manor 27.68 Ramsbottom 17.4 Redvales 16.67 Moorside 15.1 Church 23.51 Tottington 18.82 East 14.73 Unsworth 21.07 Besses 15.35 St Mary’s 16.84 Radcliffe West 14.01 Radcliffe East 14.0 Radcliffe North 17.74 Holyrood 20.43 Pilkington Park 19.2 Sedgley 18.9