IMPROVING the Central Pennines Corridor from East Lancashire to West Yorkshire will be a key priority of the new Transport for the North agency set up this week.

On Wednesday the body was officially given legal powers and an £80million annual budget at a board meeting in Liverpool.

Details were revealed of seven ‘strategic development corridors’ which will be priorities for TfN’s investment in road and rail improvements over the next 30 years.

Present at the meeting were Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver and Blackburn with Darwen transport boss Phil Riley.

They pledged to ensure reopening the railway line from Colne to Skipton and extending the M65 across the Pennines would be key parts of the Central Pennines Corridor.

The report on this element of the overall strategy for the North of England said: “Our work on this corridor will look at the case for improving east-west connectivity in the corridor for some of the North’s important economic centres.

“This corridor covers a major economic area of the North, home to global businesses, supply chains and economic assets. It contains the largest aerospace cluster in the UK, including BAE Systems and Rolls Royce.”

Cllr Riley said: “I am there to represent not just Blackburn with Darwen but the wider East Lancashire area.

“In meetings before Wednesday’s launch, I have made the case strongly for both reopening the Colne to Skipton railway line connecting the area to Leeds, Yorkshire and the wider North-East and extending the M65 across the Pennines to Bradford. They are key to our prosperity.

“I shall also press for extending the electrification of the rail route to Manchester to Blackburn and Clitheroe and for improvements to the East Lancashire line from Preston to Colne.”

County Cllr Driver said: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the North of England with a budget of £80million for the first year and hopefully rising annually thereafter.

“Reopening the Colne to Skipton line should be a priority for Transport for the North, and is currently the subject of a separate government study.

“It also needs to look at improving the road links across the Pennines either by extending the M65 to Bradford and Leeds or bypassing Colne and Foulridge and upgrading the current A59.”

Ribble Valley Council leader Ken Hind said he would press TfN to lobby for the reopening of the current freight line from Clitheroe to Hellifield.

Northern Powerhouse Minister and Rossendale and Darwen MP Jake Berry said: “I would like to see this corridor include reopening the Colne to Skipton rail line, extending the M65 across the Pennines and bringing the Manchester Metro tram service to Rawtenstall.”

TfN makes Northern England will be the first area of England outside the capital with statutory powers over strategic transport investment decisions similar to those held by Transport for London,