Knowles in line to take top job

Date published: 08 May 2008

Richard Knowles could take charge of Greater Manchester’s public transport after his party’s strong showing in the local elections.

Saddleworth South Liberal Democrat councillor is currently opposition leader on the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority (GMPTA), but could become chairman if Labour loses control of the authority.

The disastrous results for Labour in last week’s council elections saw GMPTA chairman Roger Jones ousted from the Salford Council seat he has held for 25 years.

Because of the way members of the authority are appointed by the 10 district councils, the new make-up is likely to be 15 Labour, 10 Lib Dems, and eight Conservatives.

A pact between the Lib Dems and Tories could force Labour from power and put Councillor Knowles, professor of transport geography at Salford University, in the chair.

He is a supporter of Greater Manchester’s Transport Innovation Fund bid but has serious reservations about the congestion charge scheme put forward by Labour last year.

Councillor Knowles failed in a bid to take power last year when Conservatives refused his offer of a pact to overturn Labour control. He said: “It is too early to say what will happen this year. There are all sorts of scenarios but the authority’s annual meeting is not until June 20 and each council has to decide who to appoint to the authority before then.

“Of course I would like to be chairman. Nobody leads an opposition without wanting the main job.”

But the final decision on congestion charging awaits an offer from the Department for Transport and will be taken by the new council leaders who form the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities.

They will decide on a simple majority vote on whether to proceed. Stockport, Trafford, and Bury have already voted not to accept congestion charging. Bolton Conservatives are also against the idea but failed to win outright control of the council.

With the future of the scheme in the balance, much will depend on the offer from the Government.

Councillor Knowles says he does not expect an announcement until all 10 councils have held their annual meetings over the next two weeks.

Opponents of congestion charging targeted Councillor Roger Jones, telling voters that his re-election could cost them up to £7.50 a day to drive to and from work.

The Electoral Commission is investigating the role of Trafford Centre owners Peel Holdings.

The property giant has admitted employing a marketing firm to test public opinion in Councillor Jones’s ward but denies trying to influence the result of the election.

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