A new body to develop a transport strategy for the whole of the North has been called for.
It was put forward by the boss of the £50bn HS2 high speed rail project, Sir David Higgins, in a report published today.
He suggested it should be called Transport for the North and include local authorities from five key cities – including Newcastle.
The others are Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield while Sir David used an image of the Angel of the North as the symbol of his vision in the report.
He wants it to set out a timetable to develop a new transport strategy to decide on an approach for improving rail and road connectivity across and within the region north of Birmingham.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: “I welcome the recognition that the five major cities in the North are already working together and as this plan develops I will be working extremely closely with my colleagues to get the best possible deal for Newcastle and the North East.”
Sir David’s proposal was contained in a report which could see train journey times between northern cities slashed.
The improvements would cover an east-west section of northern England and would be in addition to the north-of-Birmingham phase two of HS2 which will see a Y-shaped route going to Manchester and Leeds.
Sir David said northern connectivity plans – dubbed “HS3” and backed by Chancellor George Osborne – would be “as important to the north of England as Crossrail is for London”.
The plans, if carried forward, would mean journey times between Leeds and Manchester could almost be cut in almost half while journeys between Leeds and Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield Meadowhall, York and Birmingham and Nottingham to Birmingham could also be reduced by half or more, and many more journeys across the country substantially shortened.
These would include the Birmingham to Newcastle journey time being reduced from its present 3hr and 14mins to 2hr and 7mins, and the Manchester to Newcastle time cut from 2hr 22mins to under 2hrs.
Mr Forbes said the recommendation to upgrade the East Coast line between Newcastle and Leeds was good news.
“That will give us not only faster journey times but better connectivity to other major core cities in the North,” he said.
Phase one of HS2 involves a new high-speed line from Euston in London passing through Tory heartlands in the Chilterns to Birmingham, with an expected completion date of 2026.
Phase two was originally scheduled to be completed in 2032/33, although Sir David is keen for this date to be brought forward.
The project is strongly supported by the Government but is bitterly opposed by some councils and residents along the phase one route.
Sir David said: “Improving connectivity is vital if Britain is to compete in the knowledge economy in which this country has a competitive advantage, but in which ease of travel is an essential element.
“Knowledge-based companies whether they are in hi-tech manufacturing, the creative industries, finance or the law, have to be close, or feel close, to the talent, skills base, support network, knowledge pools, collaborators and clients necessary to create the ‘hot-house atmosphere’ in which they thrive.
“That is why reducing the journey times between and within our cities isn’t just desirable for both passengers and freight. It is a strategic necessity.”
Mr Osborne said: “The vision I set out earlier this year of the northern powerhouse we could build is rapidly taking shape.
“I asked Sir David to look at how we deliver the better transport links across the north that would make a reality of that powerhouse.
“I’m delighted with the rapid response and the report. Today we take another big step forward in delivering both the HS2 links from north to south and the HS3 link across the Pennines.
“On the back of new transport infrastructure, science investment and civic leadership, we are well on our way to turning the northern powerhouse into reality.”
Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said: “Labour supports high-speed rail to tackle commuter overcrowding and to improve connections between cities in the north and Midlands and London.
“We have repeatedly said we need value for money for the taxpayer and to improve the existing plans to maximise the benefits for the whole country.”
Mr Forbes said more work was still needed to help the North East.
“The bit of the jigsaw that’s missing from this report are links north of Newcastle to Scotland. I will be making the case very strongly that a high-speed connection to Scotland must come through Newcastle otherwise we risk being neglected by the extension of the West Coast mainline.”
He added: “This is the beginning of a national strategy for high-speed rail and it is essential that Newcastle is an integral part of the first stage of development.”