North is wonderful but high speed rail would give it the "turbo charge" it needs, says transport boss

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Getting the Government to approve a high speed rail scheme connecting the biggest cities of the North is the key to giving the region’s growth a “turbo charge”, according to a leading northern transport official.

Barry White, the chief executive of strategic body Transport for the North, told a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference today that his organisation would be submitting the business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail to the Department for Transport in December.

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The project would see journey times between Manchester and Leeds cut to 30 minutes and put 1.3 million people within an hour of at least four of the North’s main economic centres.

Speaking at an event called The North is on the rise: What more does it need? and asked to identify just one thing the North needed to thrive, Mr White replied: “The North is a wonderful place already but it needs Northern Powerhouse Rail to give it that turbo charge.”

Asked if that meant that government support for the scheme was not guaranteed, he replied: “I would never presume anything.” He added: “We are looking for the Government to approve

it in the first quarter of next year, so we can continue the work from April onwards. That is the answer we need. Knowing that is going to happen, even knowing that will start to give a boost to areas.”

Transport for the North achieve statutory status earlier this year, but is still reliant on central government for funding and does not have the same borrowing or revenue-raising powers as Transport for London.

During the event Mr White said his organisation could do a lot with its current powers, but admitted that there was “clearly an appetite” for TfN to have greater powers in future.

Another speaker, Geoff White, Policy Manager at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, criticised the way devolution of powers and funding was happening across England.

Asked what he would like to see to help the North, he said: “More devolution, more quickly, but joined up.” He added: “Areas like Yorkshire shouldn’t have to wait until the politicians can agree. Someone needs to get in there and crack heads together.”