PARLIAMENT: Cities bid for cash to set up congestion-charging schemes

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MANCHESTER AND most of Birmingham are among 25 areas seeking to introduce city road tolls and workplace parking fees, it emerged yesterday.

Local authorities are bidding for part of an pounds 18m fund to investigate the establishment of so-called "congestion charging" in an attempt to persuade people to use public transport.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, a transport minister, saidthe charges could not be levied for another four or five years. He said councils would have to prove they were offering adequate alternative forms of transport and had the backing of residents.

Other councils which declared an interest in "taxing" their motorists are the cities of Bristol, Nottingham and Leeds; the boroughs of Milton Keynes and Reading and the counties of Derbyshire, Cambridgeshire, Durham, Cheshire and Hampshire. The charges will also be an option for the Mayor of London.

However, much of a pounds 754.9m transport package announced yesterday was aimed at showing the Government was not "anti-car" and amounted to a substantial U-turn on previous policy. Of the 21 local schemes given the go-ahead yesterday, some 18 involved major road schemes. This constituted the second year of a three-year pounds 2.4bn programme, which the Government says involves additional expenditure of pounds 700m.

Lord Macdonald said the proposals were aimed at establishing integrated transport systems and providing "greater travel choice". He said that transport problems were often best tackled at the local level and that 20 per cent more money had been pledged to enable local councils to do so.

He said the pounds 301m allocation for road maintenance next year was 24 per cent higher than this year's figure. The projects would also benefit pedestrians and cyclists. He said the pounds 205m budget for "integrated transport systems" was a 19 per cent increase on last year.

The new funding by region yesterday was: London borough pounds 92.8m, the South- east pounds 89.6m, South-west pounds 74.3m, West Midlands pounds 79.5m, North-west pounds 103.4m, North-east pounds 77.9m, Yorkshire and the Humber pounds 108.6m, East Midlands pounds 50.9m and eastern England pounds 60m.