Train journey times between the north of England’s biggest cities would be halved under plans published on Monday for new high-speed rail services across the Pennines.
The scheme, promoted by the head of the £50bn HS2 project, would slash the travel time between Leeds and Manchester from 55 minutes to a maximum of 34 minutes.
It has won the backing of the Government, with the Chancellor, George Osborne, declaring that the project would be “as important to the north of England as Crossrail is for London”.
The proposals have been drawn up by Sir David Higgins, the chairman of HS2 Ltd, the company behind the controversial scheme to build a high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham with further spurs to Manchester and Leeds.
Phase one, between London and Birmingham, is due to be built by 2026 although it has run into fierce opposition from local communities. The second phase, to the North-west and Yorkshire, is scheduled for completion by 2033, but Sir David is keen for the timetable to be accelerated.
In a new report he says alternatives to the proposed second phase would not produce the same capacity, connectivity and economic benefits.
He also urges a further stage, dubbed HS3, to improve services between east and west in northern England. The line, which would cost more than £5bn from a proposed £15bn fund for transport improvements in the North, would reduce journey times between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull.
Sir David also calls in the report for the go-ahead to be given to both legs of the proposed HS2 network.
David Cameron said: “Improving connectivity and reducing journey times between our great northern cities is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan for the North to boost businesses and create more jobs and security for hard-working people. That’s why we are backing HS3.
“I welcome Sir David Higgins’ report which will help our work to create a northern powerhouse and ensure that HS2 delivers the maximum economic benefits.”
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said: “There’s no point developing north-south links without promoting the connectivity of the cities in the North.”
The shadow Transport Secretary, Mary Creagh, said: “Labour supports high-speed rail to improve the connections between cities in the North and Midlands and London.”