A POWERFUL transport body is to be created as city leaders seek to make life easier for North-East motorists and commuters.
The city region transport body will be set up next year with powers over buses and roads from Northumberland down to Durham.
The new authority brings together a collection of councils and transport groups based throughout Tyne and Wear who will work with others in the region.
It has not been awarded any extra powers by central Government but is expected to have a strong lobbying voice on issues such as A1 dualling.
The planners behind the group, which will eventually become the region’s most powerful transport authority, are eager to get started on groundbreaking travel schemes.
The interim transport board wants to look at starting a cross-ticketing project to make it possible to use just one pass for buses, trains and the Metro.
It will also look at ways of improving connections to London and across the Pennines to Manchester.
Councillors on the ambitious board will bring together agencies such as One NorthEast and business groups and will be led by North Tyneside’s elected mayor John Harrison. He said: “It is similar to, say, the Passenger Transport Authority, but much more powerful.
“That obviously just covers passengers but we will have a real chance to improve motorways and rail links in the region.
“And it’s not just a lobbying group, but a very real presence that will solve a lot of connectivity problems here.
“We will not just solve problems within the region but make it much easier to get from the North-East to London and the rest of the UK.
“This is a fantastic opportunity that businesses, local leaders and indeed The Journal have often called for and now we have the chance to improve our connections by road, rail, sea and air.”
The initial steps have won praise from the North-East Chamber of Commerce.
Ross Smith, head of policy, said: “The suggestion is this will be something loosely modelled on the Transport for London organisation and that is a very positive step.
“If it brings together the different transport bodies and allows them to meet under the same roof and decide the region’s priorities together, that will be a great move.
“They are planning to have Network Rail and the Highways Agency accountable to this body, and certainly in terms of the Highways Agency, that would be a very welcome move.”
Minister for the North-East Nick Brown said the board had “the potential to make a step change in the development of transport policy in the region.
“But it is very important that as well taking a strategic view, the new body looks closely at the details as well.”
Liz Smith, assistant regional director, CBI North-East, said: “It is vitally important that the fragmented governance of transport is streamlined to produce a more efficient transport network for both the movement of goods and people around the region. These proposals could bring about much needed coordination of transport policy across the City Region, and business will be keen to be involved in this.”
Northumberland County Council have, however, sounded a note of caution.
Council leader Peter Hillman said: “The needs and challenges of our urban and rural communities are very different.
“We’ll continue to work with other authorities to explore ways that Northumberland and the wider region could benefit.”
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