There is "particular enthusiasm" for road pricing in the West Midlands, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said yesterday.

Speaking to The Birmingham Post as he opened a new national traffic control centre in Birmingham, Mr Darling warned the region needed to reduce congestion if it was to remain competitive.

He also confirmed that the region chosen to pilot a road charging scheme would enjoy a huge funding boost for public transport.

The £160 million National Traffic Control Centre, in Quinton, monitors road conditions across the country and sends information to motorists via road signs and commercial services such as in-car navigation systems, as well as the internet, telephone services and the media.

The centre, which employs 200 people, would "help keep the country moving", Mr Darling said.

But in the longer time, he warned regions such as the West Midlands would require more radical measures.

The region's seven metropolitan authorities were awarded £1.2 million last November to look into ways of reducing congestion, including road pricing.

Mr Darling said: "The West Midlands is one of the areas of the country where we are working very closely with all the local authorities to look at what we need to do to manage congestion over 20 or 30 years.

"Part of that is to look at where we can pilot road pricing. There are other areas looking at it too, such as Manchester.

"I am planning to make a decision on a pilot next year. We are asking for proposals by the end of this year."

Any road pricing scheme would be accompanied by investment in public transport, including rail and buses, he said.

"We will have to back it up with major investment. We have a huge opportunity to radically change transport in this country. In particular, there is a lot of enthusiasm in the West Midlands.

"The West Midlands is in competition for jobs with other parts of Europe and the world, and if you want to stay ahead of the game you have got to ensure you have a quality transport infrastructure."

The Transport Secretary also warned that New Street Station "cannot last much longer" as it is.

However, he said no decision had been made on whether to rebuild the station or build a new one close by.

Mr Darling also revealed he was talking to Birmingham City Council about the future of the planned metro tram extension in the city.

It emerged that the planned £72 million extension through the city centre is on the brink of collapse.

Mr Darling said: "I'm at the moment having discussions with Birmingham City Council." ..SUPL: