Political Correspondent

An ambitious nine-point programme to improve transport links and help close a £10?billion productivity gap in the West Midlands will be presented to Ministers after it was unveiled today.

The aim is to ensure the region has a series of well-developed proposals ready to go when government funding becomes available.

Residents in Greater Manchester last week rejected plans for a congestion-charging scheme in their region, despite promises of up to £3?billion in funding for public transport schemes in return for introducing charges on the roads.

This has led to speculation that the cash could now become available for other regions, such as the West Midlands.

The West Midlands economy is £10 billion less productive than it should be if productivity per person was in line with the national average – and this is partly down to poor transport links, the document warns.

The document, called Regional Transport Priorities, has been drawn up by local councils and Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency, co-ordinated by Ian Austin (Lab Dudley North), the Minister for the West Midlands.

Many of the proposals are already well-advanced, including the refurbishment of New Street station, extending the runway of Birmingham International Airport and adding capacity to the M5 and M6 motorway network near Birmingham by opening hard shoulders to traffic.

Other projects include improving freight rail lines between Nuneaton and ports including Southampton and Felixstowe, allowing more stock to be transported by rail rather than road.

A number of improvements to local rail services are also planned, including longer platforms at Redditch and Bromsgrove stations.

However, there was no specific mention of plans to extend the Midland Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, in the Black Country.

Instead, the document simply calls for the creation of a rapid transit scheme, without giving details.

By contrast, a draft version of the plan published last year highlighted plans “to connect Brierley Hill/Merry Hill with an improved Midland Metro Line One into Birmingham City Centre”.

Black Country councils and Centro, the region’s passenger transport authority, have now been told they must produce a business case explaining why an enhanced Metro line is the best option. The Metro extension has been in the planning stages for eight years.

Despite its omission from the proposals, the Metro is still seen as the best option by the region’s leaders - but there was agreement that more work was needed to convince the Department for Transport.

Other proposals include new buses in North Staffordshire and “sustainable transport” schemes such as the creation of new cycle lanes.