HS2’s chairman Doug Oakervee has been dumped in favour of the knight who led the construction of the London 2012 Olympic Park. Sir David Higgins, who will earn almost £600,000 a year, will take up his new role in January. The Australian is currently chief executive at Network Rail, which looks after Britain’s existing rail infrastructure, and has been praised for restructuring and commercialising what has been viewed as a cumbersome, costly organisation.
Sir David said: “HS2 is vital for both passengers and the economy and will put the UK in a different league in terms of infrastructure. My first priority will be to rigorously scrutinise costs to ensure they remain under control.” His appointment suggests that Cameron and Osborne are determined to win over the doubters. Sir David was awarded a knighthood for bringing in the Olympics under budget and on time following a difficult start that had seen costs wildly underestimated.
HS2’s current chairman Doug Oakervee, dubbed “Captain Invisible”, will leave at the end of the year. He has endured a dreadful summer in which it has been claimed that the project could end up costing £80bn, while one-time supporters including former Chancellor Alistair Darling have had second thoughts about its merits. Mr Oakervee, 72, has dismissed HS2’s hundreds of thousands of opponents as a “quite vociferous small minority”.