NEARLY 60 per cent of Cambridgeshire residents would support the introduction of congestion charging - provided the county council got the régime right - according to research published this afternoon (Tuesday). But that support would halve if the council did not restrict it to 7.30-9.30am, did not transfer all net revenue to public transport and other local transport schemes, and did not have attractive alternatives in place before the charges started. The council's independent consultants spent five months consulting the public - using the same questionnaire on-line, at 37 separate public road shows and interviewing a weighted sample of 1,100 people in their homes. Those who answered the questions on-line were overwhelmingly people who work in Cambridge and drive in at peak times. They were least supportive of the principle (68 per cent), but opposition dwindled to 38 per cent if attractive alternatives were put in place. The county council has asked the Government for £517million to pay for public and other local transport improvements across the county in advance of the introduction of charges. More than four out of five respondents acknowledged that congestion was a serious problem for the city and that it was getting worse. Respondents said the main ways to reduce congestion were cheaper, more frequent and more reliable and punctual public transport, which three-quarters of respondents said would persuade them to use their cars less. Four-fifths of respondents said charging £5 to drive in Cambridge during morning peak - CCC's proposal is £3-£5 a day - would have some effect on reducing congestion, but a quarter said they would carry on as before if a charge were introduced. For Huntingdonshire, the £500million-plus plans include more bus services to villages in the district, additional local schemes to improve road safety, real-time bus information, segregated bus lanes in Huntingdon and St Ives, and quicker delivery of schemes in the market town transport strategies. With 11 per cent of Huntingdonshire residents commuting to Cambridge or South Cambridgeshire, congestion into and around Cambridge will get much worse without real and sustainable transport alternatives, the county council said. To alleviate it, the money would fund more direct routes for buses into Cambridge, and the new park-and-ride sites along the guided busway route at St Ives and Longstanton that are already planned. Decisions on the TIF scheme will be high on the agenda for the county council's new leader, who will effectively be elected by the controlling Tory group on Friday. Technically, the Conservatives' choice must be ratified by the full council next week. Six candidates have emerged for the post, which has been filled by Councillor Keith Walters from Sawtry in a caretaker role since the resignation of Cllr Shona Johnstone last autumn over the appointment of new chief executive Mark Lloyd. Among the candidates - and one of the front runners - is Cllr David Harty, from Eaton Socon, who is expected to be up against Cllr Jill Tuck, who represents Waldersey in Fenland, in the final round of voting by the 43 Tories on the 69-member authority. Cllr Harty, an architect by profession, now combines a part-time local practice with membership of the county council and Huntingdonshire District Council. Cllr Tuck has been a Fenland district councillor since 1991 and a county councillor since 1993. The other four contenders are Councillors Lister Wilson (Bourn), Simon King (Wisbech South), Alan Melton (Chatteris) and Mac McGuire (who lives in Sawtry and represents Norman Cross). The new cabinet is unlikely to consider its reaction to the consultation results before June or July, Cllr Walters said today.