Major transport improvements can go ahead in the West Midlands even if councils refuse to introduce road pricing, the Minister for the region has said.
Liam Byrne's comments suggested that the Government had scrapped its policy of funding major transport projects only in towns and cities which impose congestion charging.
Birmingham and other authorities in the region are expected to rule out charging motorists when they publish the results of an inquiry into pricing, later this week.
Mr Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill), the Minister for the West Midlands, will next week host a summit of civic leaders, including councillors and senior executives from Network Rail and Centro-PTA, the passenger transport authority, to decide on the region's three top transport priorities.
A preliminary report has identified eight options including extending the Midland Metro, improving capacity on local rail services and improving services to the region's "unique cultural assets", such as Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford. The Minister will then take the conclusions to Whitehall and lobby for funding if needed.
But the region is almost certain to need to find some of the money itself.
Mr Byrne said he had identified three options for funding. They include: n using new taxes such as supplementary business rates, which the Government plans to allow local authorities to levy n raising money through the sale of redundant land n authorities borrowing money Mr Byrne said: "We can use prudential borrowing to fund projects. The West Midlands councils are big authorities with deep pockets, and this is how Birmingham was built. After all, Chamberlain borrowed to transform the city."
The comments suggest ministers have accepted that few councils will agree to road pricing.
The Government announced the creation of a £2 billion Transport Innovation Fund to improve public transport in 2004 but said significant sums would be available only to councils which agreed to run pilot road pricing schemes. The prospect of charging motorists to use the roads has sparked fierce opposition, and more than 1.8 million people signed a petition against the idea after it was placed on the Downing Street website by Shropshire businessman Peter Roberts.
Opposition in the Commons has been led by John Spellar, Labour MP for Warley in the Black Country and a former Transport Minister.
Mr Byrne said the aim of the summit was to ensure that the Government's announcement that it will provide almost £400 million for the refurbishment of New Street was just the first step towards improving transport in the region.
Despite being a Minister, Mr Byrne cannot pledge that the Government will support the summit's proposals. His role is to lobby on behalf of the region.
"This is the first time the big players in the region have got together and decided what our priorities should be," he added. "When I was talking to people in the Department for Transport and other Government departments about New Street, I was able to tell them that everyone in the region was united in support of the proposal. That made a huge difference, and we got the money.
"To win support, we need to be able to explain what we want, in what order, and why. And we have to decide our priorities as a region, and then speak with one voice."
To help the region improve the way it presents its case to Whitehall, Mr Byrne has asked representatives of The Northern Way, a lobbying organisation representing towns and cities in the north of England, to address the summit.
He said: "I asked at Government level who had done the best job in arguing their case, and people said it was The Northern Way. So I said, let's get them to tell us how they did it."
The West Midlands Minister is also launching a major regional skills strategy today and will announce plans later this month to attract more health science industry to the region, working closely with universities.