Last-minute changes to the blueprint for a Greater Manchester congestion charge were revealed on Sunday, in a bid to defuse business opposition only days before an important vote by council leaders.
The plan to form Britain’s biggest congestion charging zone has divided Manchester’s business community and led to concerns that individuals and tradesmen who cannot use public transport to get to work will face far higher costs.
If the changes are approved by council chiefs from the 10 Greater Manchester councils at a meeting on Friday, lorries will be spared the charge for its first year in operation, pending a study to investigate the savings from reduced congestion.
People working in Trafford Park, the large business centre close to the outside of the charging zone, will not have to pay the charge until the tram network reaches the area.
The maximum daily charge will also be cut from £10 to £5, with a pledge that no user will pay more than once for entering or leaving a charging zone while the charge is in operation, no matter how many times they cross the boundary.
And people on the minimum wage would be given a 20 per cent discount on public transport fares and the congestion charge.
The concessions have been tabled in advance of a city-wide referendum on the scheme, which would allow the city to draw on £1.5bn
of government funds to upgrade its transport facilities and to complete the Metrolink tram network.
The result will be followed closely by Whitehall which wants to extend road charging. It will also be watched worldwide because congestion charges normally cover much smaller areas.
A public consultation has already attracted 88,000 responses. Concerns include the impact on low income families, small businesses and road hauliers operating out of national distribution centres inside the zone.
The United City group of businesses in favour of the scheme welcomed the congestion charge exemption for Trafford Park businesses before the introduction of Metrolink.
Chris Oglesby, chairman, said: “I am delighted to see that our comments on both this and the removal of multiple charging – recognising that repeat business journeys and deliveries at all times of the day contribute to a thriving economy – have been listened to.”
The Greater Manchester Momentum Group, a business campaign against the congestion charge, welcomed the 20 per cent discount for people on the minimum wage but said it would add to the scheme’s cost: “The massive size of the charging zone and the narrow focus of the transport improvements on moving people in and out of the city centre mean that public transport will remain an impractical option for many thousands of workers even with a discount.”