THE best chance in a lifetime to improve public transport — or an unfair tax that will hit working people?

That was the big question Bury people had to mull over when they attended a public meeting to discuss the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) bid and associated congestion charge.

Opinion was very much split, judging by the reception given to speakers who outlined the pros and cons at Saturday’s meeting at The Met, chaired by local MP David Chaytor.

In the Yes camp were Roger Jones, former chairman of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority and Ken Knott, chief executive of Ask Developments, which is building the new office and hotel scheme opposite Bury town hall.

Calling for a No vote were Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley, and Susan Williams, leader of Trafford Council.

Councillor Williams got the ball rolling, saying: “I’ve always welcomed major investment in public transport, but the rub is the congestion charge. The deal will cost £9 billion with the interest over 30 years, which is not a very efficient way of raising funds.”

But Mr Jones said: “I regard the congestion charge as a necessary evil, or a price worth paying, to get money for public transport. This is the best chance we have got.”

Graham Stringer said it was unfair London was getting £40 billion for public transport without a charge, and he wanted Manchester to get its fair share.

He said the money was paying for small improvements to the tram system, as most of the extensions to Oldham and Rochdale had been paid for. Bus companies would still have control of fares and routes, whereas they should have been regulated.

Reactions from the audience were mixed. One wanted a guarantee that prices would not shoot up once the scheme came in, while another suggested it was the outer charging zone that was the problem.

Whitefield councillor Derek Boden said one in five children in the conurbation had asthma, twice the national average, and this was a direct consequence of traffic.

But Mr Stringer feared the charge would simply move the pollution elsewhere and Coun Williams said the TIF was nothing to do with climate change, otherwise there would be a charge on ‘gas guzzlers’ .

l A Bury woman had her car ‘vandalised’ at the Trafford Centre. The Yes supporter was among shoppers who had ‘semi-permanent’ No stickers put on their vehicles.

Chantelle Acraman said: “It was only when I got home that I could use hot water to get the sticker off, and it took me 20 minutes.”

l ‘No’ campaigners will be giving it a last push in the Mill Gate centre tonight, in Radcliffe town centre on Saturday morning, and again in the Mill Gate on Sunday.

l Sir Alex Ferguson is the latest big name to back the Yes campaign.

He said: “In Greater Manchester, football plays a significant role in the social and economic life of the region. We all know that connecting people to jobs, leisure activities and to each other is crucial. This one-off opportunity to create a world-class transport network simply must not be missed.”