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City region plan despite C-charge rebuff

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Council leaders in Greater Manchester have insisted they remain on track to be one of the Treasury’s two ‘forerunner city regions’ despite the ‘No’ vote against a congestion charge.

Voters in each of the 10 boroughs rejected by a huge margin proposals that would have seen the government plough£1.5bn of investment into Greater Manchester’s Metrolink, trains and buses in return for the introduction of the congestion charge which would raise a similar amount.

The result sparked bitter recriminations between councils that had been for and against the proposals. But leaders on both sides insisted the result would not derail wider plans.

The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) signed a multi-area agreement (MAA) with various Whitehall departments last summer. And Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese (Lab), a leading proponent of the charge, claimed transport projects played a relatively minor role in the agreement.

“This [the transport investment package] is largely outside the MAA so I don’t see why it should impact on it,” he told LGC. “We got to this point through a commitment by 10 councils to work together. That is not diminished.”

Susan Williams (Con), leader of Trafford MBC and one of the foremost opponents of the charge, agreed. “I think we will continue to proceed in the way we have done,” she said.

In last month’s pre-Budget report , the Treasury announced it would unveil at least two forerunner city regions that would put their partnerships on a statutory footing at the time of next spring’s Budget. AGMA has already confirmed it will put itself forward (LGC - 04/12/08).

The 10 boroughs meet to ratify the result of the referendum tomorrow. There will be plenty of bridges to be mended after a bad-tempered count last Friday which saw calls for AGMA chair Lord Smith (Lab) to resign.

Dave Goddard (Lib Dem), leader of Stockport MBC and a prominent figure in the ‘No’ campaign, admitted the result had hit the partnership. “AGMA is a model people look to up and down the country,” he said. “Reputationally, the result is obviously not helpful.”

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