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Peak practice

Viewpoint - Manchester is looking at road charging to revitalise its economy without penalising the vulnerable, says Sir Richard Leese

It is great to be in Greater Manchester with its rapidly growing regional economy and busy, vibrant communities. It's great to be a cyclist and cut through the traffic on some of the conurbation's most busy corridors.

But it's not so great to be in a car during the rush hour, held up on your way to an urgent business meeting, burning unnecessary fuel or trying to run a small business where time is money.

Most of the national headlines on congestion charging cite London as an example.

But in Greater Manchester we are looking at a very different approach to our bid for the Transport Innovation Fund.

First we want to guarantee that we will improve public transport. We won't be looking at any other congestion measures until we have the necessary investment in trains, trams and buses, and have greater control over how they operate.

Only then will we look at some sort of road pricing, but it won't be the same as London.

We're drawing up plans for consultation on a more exible distance-based scheme along 15 of the busiest corridors in the conurbation, not purely the city centre. Journeys to and from the city centre only cause 6% of our current congestion. Our motorways are a much bigger problem.

Our plan is that people pay for driving at peak hours and in peak congestion. If you don't drive during the rush hour then you won't have to pay.

And if charging were to go ahead, all income will be ringfenced for reinvestment in our transport network.

The job of the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester is to improve the lives of the people in our communities. We will therefore be putting conditions in place to ensure that any changes don't penalise those who are already vulnerable. For example, key workers or people with hospital appointments travelling during the rush hour shouldn't have to pay.

All 10 authorities have backed a detailed exercise to look at the principles and possibilities of a scheme encompassing the above points, and we will be having a full public consultation later this year.

And while we don't expect anyone to jump for joy at the prospect of peak payments, we know we must nd a way to balance the necessities of nurturing our growing economy, tackling our carbon footprint, supporting our vulnerable communities and moving forward on our transport issues in a way that is the most acceptable to the most people in Greater Manchester.

That is why it is vital for us to be having a serious and very public debate about transport issues across the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester.

The good news is that we expect our economy to grow by about 210,000 jobs in the next 15 years.

The bad news is that if we don't tackle the transport issues, then it is estimated that we may forego 30,000 of those jobs. And frankly that is too many to miss in a region with some of the most deprived communities in the country.

Sir Richard Leese is leader of Manchester City Council and deputy leader of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities

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