A council-led group set up to lobby for stronger rail links between the East and West Midlands has welcomed proposed laws giving it more power over transport strategy and investment.

Midlands Connect, run by Birmingham and Nottingham city councils, wants to strengthen the east-west transport links across the Midlands. Historically, the routes have been neglected in favour of direct links to London.

Now, under the Government's devolution bill, groups like Midlands Connect, known as sub-national transport bodies, could be given formal responsibility and funding for transport policy.

Midlands Connect was recently given £5 million by the Government to develop a transport strategy to help build a 'Midlands Engine for growth'.

Coun Jon Collins, co-chairman of the Midlands Connect Partnership and leader of Nottingham City Council, said: "We welcome this announcement and we will now sit down together and with government to explore the options.

"Our existing partnership arrangements have already proved successful in raising the profile of the Midlands with government.

"Moving to a more formal arrangement may help us speak with one voice on transport and open up some good opportunities in terms of having far more control and influence over the development of our infrastructure.

"Ultimately, that could help ensure we have the transport links needed to support economic growth and jobs and secure the maximum benefits possible from HS2."

Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore added: "The Midlands is the UK's manufacturing heartland but suffers transport challenges that can impact on our competitiveness.

"That's why Midlands Connect is drawing up a region-wide transport strategy to help meet those challenges and unlock our full economic potential."

Midlands Connect believes better road, rail and freight links are needed for the Midlands to fulfil its growth potential and help rebalance the UK economy as a whole.

Key priorities include improving east-west rail connections, including for freight, maximising the benefits from HS2 and improving links between the region's airports.

Those already involved in Midlands Connect include local enterprise partnerships, Network Rail, the Highways Agency, local authorities, transport authorities and the business community.