WHEN Boris Johnson made his first major domestic speech in Manchester in July, it was heartening that his first policy announcement is to benefit the North. He said he wanted to be the Prime Minister that did for the Northern Powerhouse Rail project, “what we did for Crossrail in London”.

Whilst I welcome these warm words from the Prime Minister, we now need to see action to match the rhetoric. At the moment our transport system, whether it is North-South or East-West, simply isn't up to the job. Decades of chronic underinvestment in Northern transport has resulted in a North-South divide that has kept on growing.

The big prize is Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), the transformational east-west scheme designed to improve connectivity between the key economic centres of the North. As well as faster journey times, enhanced capacity and greater frequency, delivering the whole of Northern Powerhouse Rail as a network will provide opportunities for our young people to secure the skilled jobs we need to drive productivity and create a Northern Powerhouse capable of taking on and leading the world.

The Prime Minister has promised to publish detailed plans for the Manchester to Leeds leg this Autumn, but this is just the first part of the wider network which includes better connections from Sheffield to Hull, across to Manchester Airport and Liverpool and up to Darlington and Newcastle.

The greatest benefits to the North-East, however, will come if both NPR and high-speed rail 2 (HS2) are delivered together. Ensuring HS2 comes all the way to the Northern Powerhouse is critical. This is not about getting to London more quickly. It is about the transformation of our economy, opening up new labour markets for our young people and creating new, skilled jobs. The North-East already has fast links to York but trains to the North West are painfully slow.

By connecting to Northern Powerhouse Rail and then to HS2 it unlocks getting to Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool as well as Birmingham and the West Midlands. Alongside the much-needed upgrades to the East Coast Mainline, it will kickstart the economy on Tyneside, Wearside and the wider North-East and allow more people to be able to use the growing connectivity from Newcastle Airport.

In the North-East, there is the enterprise, ambition and natural resources to be the country’s great engine of growth. The opportunities for investment, growth and job creation would be unparalleled – creating a genuine Northern Powerhouse. Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe is already bidding to build HS2 trains and will also be one of the northern-based suppliers who will undoubtably bid to build NPR trains. Darlington station is already getting NPR and HS2 ready, with Tees Valley Combined Authority already investing in improvements and we fully support the North-East Chamber of Commerce Fast Track East Coast Campaign because to get the benefits of NPR and HS2, we need more capacity and resilience north of York.

The North-East is brimming with opportunity, and through Northern Powerhouse Rail, it can support business growth, new investment, and a robust economy. We know investing in infrastructure will connect the North like never before and create places where businesses are clambering to invest, enabled by strong transport links. Northern Powerhouse Rail is a key part of that mission.

Henri Murison is director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership