Business leaders fear Manchester's regeneration could be stifled by controversial plans for a congestion charge.

Greater Manchester is bidding for a £3bn government funding package to make major improvements to the area’s public transport network.

The deal will include a £1.8bn loan paid back over 30 years from the proceeds of a peak hour congestion charge of up to £5 a day. Transport and council chiefs have pledged that the huge investment would take place before road pricing is introduced in 2012.

Improvements would include extending the tram network, putting more than 200 extra buses on the region’s roads and adding extra carriages to trains. But some business leaders fear that a lack of certainty about charging could damage Manchester’s growth.

Chris Fletcher, policy director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: ‘While the charging zones and times will not affect business, shoppers or commuters in the same way that a London style charge would, there are still too many gaps in people’s knowledge to make an informed decision.

‘Without this, any future investment decisions to relocate into the city or expand current operations will be difficult to make. This cannot be a good thing.’ The British Council of Shopping Centres warned that the congestion charge ‘might undermine the ongoing regeneration of town and city centres by making out-of-town retail destinations more attractive to shoppers’.

But advocates of the scheme fear Greater Manchester could lose thousands of jobs as the area struggles to cope with increasing congestion and a daily commuter crawl.

Midas, Manchester’s inward investment agency, said regeneration would be boosted by the transport system overhaul. Chief executive Colin Sinclair said: ‘Good transport links – including public transport and free-flowing roads and motorways – are one of the key elements for attracting mobile international investment to a city or region.

‘There will always be some opposition to this kind of charging scheme, but doing nothing isn’t an option as we would all be far worse off in the future. We’d struggle to get anywhere and lose businesses and investment as a result.’

A decision on the funding bid is expected by the end of the year.


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