READING has cleared the first hurdle in its £300m bid for Government transport cash.

The council's 'draft document' is in, which should soon become a formal bid to the Transport Innovation Fund (Tif) for the money for public transport improvements and potential congestion charging.

Transport leader Cllr Tony Page told the Chronicle: "The bid is in, with supporting documentation in 18 box files and supporting CDs. We're doing everything we can to make sure it's successful."

But the Department for Transport played down the sumission, saying it wasn't yet a formal bid and that it does not comment on "every scrap of correspondence" it has with councils.

Building a third Thames bridge near Thames Valley Park is very much part of the plans, but even if the bid is successful will not happen for a decade.

The most immediate effects of the huge cash injection would be a boost for struggling Reading Buses, including targeted subsidies aimed at boosting passenger numbers. Cllr Page said people in full-time education would be the first recipients of free or cheaper travel, but said a previously floated idea for a 30% across-the-board fares cut had been ruled out.

A centrepiece of the plan is three new park and ride sites surrounding Reading, one of which could replace the struggling service operating from Loddon Bridge, which has been making losses of nearly £200,000 annually.

The money would also be used to improve travel between Reading and Bracknell, improve roads and rail stations in Hampshire and Oxfordshire and could be used to create a low-emission zone and a guided-bus mass rapid transit system with a hub at the redeveloped Reading Station.

Most controversially, the proposals are linked to congestion charging, which could happen after 10 years if the other measures fail to shift congestion. The idea is a peak-time, inbound only charge, payable only by those who live outside Reading. It is unclear whether this will include people living in the nearby towns and villages like Earley, Woodley, Theale, Pangbourne and Sonning Common.

Cllr Page said: "It is a key principle that people in Reading will be exempt, as will some in the wider area, but that is still to be discussed."

West Berkshire Council pulled out of the bid because of its opposition to congestion charging, but all of Reading's other neighbouring councils, plus Bracknell Forest, are on board. Reading's opposition Lib Dems and Tories also back the bid - though the Tories are depending on David Cameron's pledge to scrap the congestion charging element of Tif.