Fears have been raised that a congestion charge could be introduced in Colchester.

Transport leaders and town groups have slammed the possible introduction of fees which could be levied under a new Government bill.

The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, which is currently in parliamentary stages, would see new combined authorities created from two or more local authority areas.

These would then have control over matters such as economic development and regeneration as well as transport.

Norman Hume, Essex County Council's cabinet member for highways and transportation, said he would fight tooth and nail against any moves towards the introduction of congestion charges.

He said: “The council has already written to the transport minister asking him to clarify the Government guidelines for congestion charging.

“We are totally opposed to it, especially by the back door where local people have not been fully consulted.”

Millions of pounds have already been allocated by the county council in a bid to improve Colchester's congestion crisis, including planned works to improve the bottleneck around the Albert roundabout.

Transport groups also spoke out against any moves to introduce congestion charges - with the Colchester Cycling Campaign condemning such fees as a “costly, crude tool”.

A spokesman said: “We understand the need to reduce traffic and provide better living environments.

“But congestion charging discriminates against poorer people who need to drive occasionally.”

He added: “We would prefer the simple low-tech solution of pie-chart towns.

“Drivers cannot cross from slice to slice or through the centre but, importantly, they can access the centre from every direction.

“This builds inconvenience into shorter car journeys while allowing buses, taxis and cyclists to travel freely - meaning more people switch to the greener modes.”

Colchester's prospective Conservative MP Will Quince described the move to new combined authorities as the "antithesis of local democracy".

He said: "It is clear that they will be used as a Trojan horse to force through congestion taxes, road pricing and workplace parking taxes on Colchester by the back door and sideline Essex County Council.

"These new unelected quangos could also be used to override public opposition – if you look at other areas where power is taken away from elected members, people on the ground are never listened to.

“The Government should hand power back to local communities, starting off by abolishing the regional planning bodies.”