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Despite Manchester announcement, UK remains resistent to congestion charge plans

Ministers were this week under increasing pressure to waive a requirement for local authorities to include congestion charging plans in bids for money from the government's £1.5bn Transport Innovation Fund (TIF).

Several local authorities have already said they will not introduce a congestion charging plan, effectively ruling out bids for TfL cash.

Others will not say whether their TIF bids include a congestion charge element.

Local authority body CSS led the calls for the fund, worth £1.5bn over the next seven years, to be reviewed. It wants local authorities to be able to come up with alternative "demand management" proposals to cut congestion using TIF cash.

"CSS calls for the focus of pilot projects funded through the Transport Innovation Fund to be on the delivery of appropriate local solutions to the problems of congestion, with road pricing being just one of the many tools to be considered.

Campaign for Better Transport executive director Stephen Joseph also called for TIF reform.

"There is a case for the government to be a little broader about the kind of traffic management measures that it is looking at in return for TIF funding.

"It has not been terribly keen on Nottingham's idea for a workplace parking levy."

The call for reform comes in the week that Manchester put itself in pole position to swallow the vast majority of the £1.5bn fund, after agreeing on plans for a £5 congestion charge.

The city may soon be joined by the West of England Partnership of local authorities which is expected to become the second area to launch congestion charging plans later this summer.

Under the plans, £4 would be charged to enter Bristol and Bath city centres between 7am and 10am. However, the bulk of an £840M public transport package for the area, including bus rapid transit routes linked to new park and ride sites, will need to be in place before the charge is introduced. This will not be until 2014 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Cambridgeshire County Council, which is hoping to launch a £500M TIF bid, said it would make a final decision on whether to push ahead with congestion charging next month following a public consultation this year.

Durham County Council said it would be making a decision on its TIF bid later in the year.

Project leader for the Tyne & Wear TIF bid Richard Hibbert said it would still seek cash even though it had ruled out congestion charging: "Instead a range of travel initiatives including traffic management systems will be delivered," he said.

In May, six local authorities in Nottingham, Leicester and Derby cancelled a joint bid for TIF funding after Nottingham pulled out to concentrate on a workplace parking levy.

In the same month, Norfolk County Council abandoned its TIF bid after studies showed that a £3 charge would not raise enough money to fund transport improvements.

This followed the West Midlands Partnership decision to scrap its TIF bid because it would "reduce the competitiveness" of parts of the region.

Shropshire County Council also dropped plans for a charge in Shrewsbury because of fears it would be unable to raise enough cash.

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