READING and Cambridge's duel for transport cash has taken a new turn with the Government scrappage of the Transport Innovation Fund (TiF).

Both councils claim to be in "pole position" for money under its replacement, the Urban Challenge Fund (UCF), which will dole out cash for transport projects but without the need for congestion charging.

It is unclear if the new fund will be as big as the £200m a year TiF, created in healthier financial times - but there are large Whitehall hints that it will not be.

Reading officials said the borough is in "pole position" for money from the new fund - but Cambridge County Council told the Cambridge News the exact same thing about its £500m TiF bid.

Reading transport leader Cllr Tony Page said the town's existing £59m phase one TiF bid, centred around a Low Emissions Zone covering the IDR, will be "tweaked" and considered under the new fund.

He said: "We are very confident that the Reading TiF bid addresses all the important elements in this new funding stream, namely economy, health, environment and, of course, congestion."

Transport minister Sadiq Khan said Reading's TiF bid "has informed the emerging processes for the UCF" and "is an exciting and worthwhile bid that should move well into the UCF process".

Opposition councillors in Cambridgeshire fear the change from TiF to UCF puts cherished public transport projects in doubt.

Cambridgeshire Lib Dem Cllr Nichola Harrison told the Cambridge News that TiF would have offered "100 times" the money that the UCF will and said: "It's a major blow that the Government has backed out at this late stage."

But in Reading, Tory transport spokesman Cllr Richard Willis was slightly more optimistic.

He said: "I'm pleased to see that the congestion charging requirement is being removed from the fund, but I'm concerned that the new fund will have different terms and conditions which may or may not be favourable to Reading."

Lib Dem transport spokesman Cllr Ricky Duveen accused the Government of "constantly shifting the goalposts", adding: "Lots of councils have spent lots of money working on these bids and now who knows what's going to happen."

Wokingham borough transport leader, Tory Cllr Keith Baker, welcomed the change but slammed the Government for "political opportunism", having dropped its six-year obsession with unpopular congestion charging just weeks before a General Election. His council unanimously signed up as a top-level partner to Reading's TiF bid in January.

Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Bracknell Forest are committed at lower levels. West Berkshire refused to sign up while congestion charging was involved - but the Government's latest announcement may change minds.