A NEW business group supporting the congestion charge proposals is making its voice heard.

United City is an alliance of Greater Manchester businesses supporting the plans for transport improvements, part paid for by a congestion charge for commuters driving in and out of Manchester.

The group is remaining positive about plans despite a sea of protest from other businesses.

The United City group includes property development companies Bruntwood and Ask Developments which are both building commercial office units in Bolton.

Premex, a Horwich-based provider of medico-legal reports for insurance companies, is also a member.

Ask has won a multi-million pound contract to work on Bolton Council’s Church Wharf development, while Bruntwood recently launched an office suite called Atria in Spa Road.

Other members include high street chain Timpson, Property Alliance and Urban Splash and Sale Sharks owner Brian Kennedy’s Latium Group.

Bodies such as Cityco, Manchester’s City Centre Management Company, Piccadilly Partnership and the new City South Partnership, have also offered their support.

Ken Knott, chief executive of Ask Developments and founder member of United City, said: “We firmly believe that the Government’s offer to give Greater Manchester around half the £3 billion, with the rest to be repaid by a peak time only congestion charge, is a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime offer that will benefit business immensely and this opportunity should not be missed.”

He added: “The proposals also confirm that the public transport investment would begin in 2009, but that the charge would not be introduced until a majority of the improvements are in place, which would be 2013 at the earliest.”

The group’s composition is wide-ranging, 32 per cent of members are consultants such as engineers, architects and accountants, while 24 per cent are leisure and manufacturing businesses. About 21 per cent are commercial property developers. Around 60 per cent of the companies are based in Manchester’s city centre, with 40 per cent with their headquarters elsewhere in the region.

Proposals for the £3 billion Transport Infrastructure Fund, together with a peak time congestion charge, will now go up for public and business consultation over the summer. Following the consultation period, the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) will make a final decision on whether to go ahead with the proposals.

A South Manchester group called the Forum of Private Business (FPB) has responded to the proposals by launching a petition against the congestion charge.

The FPB believes that the proposed tax will seriously impact on small businesses operating in Greater Manchester.

It said: “The charge is likely to encourage entrepreneurs and employees to move elsewhere. We are concerned that the current consultation exercise has come too late; the anxieties of smaller businesses were simply not considered before the bid for government funds was made.”