Higgins quits Olympics to run Network Rail

Grant Prior 14 years ago
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The man in charge of building the 2012 Olympics is quitting the games before the first starting gun has been fired.

Olympic Delivery Authority chief executive David Higgins starts a new job as head of Network Rail in the new year.

Higgins succeeds Iain Coucher, who is stepping down at the end of October. He will take up his new position on 1 February 2011.

Higgins is currently a non-executive director of Network Rail, a role he will continue until he starts as chief executive.

Before joining the ODA he was the chief executive of Lend Lease and he recently hit the headlines as one of the country’s highest paid public employees earning £438,000 a year to build the games.

One Olympic insider told the Enquirer: “This is a kick in the teeth for the ODA.

“He has been paid a shed load of money to oversee the building work and was obviously expected to see it through.

“It’s like a project manager leaving before the job is finished.”

Network Rail’s chairman, Rick Haythornthwaite, said: “We recruited David to the board earlier this year because of his track record in leading large organisations, delivering demanding projects and managing a complex range of commercial interests and wider stakeholder sensitivities.

“With Iain Coucher deciding it is the right time to leave Network Rail, David emerged as the outstanding candidate to lead Network Rail into a challenging new era following an extensive search process.

“There are significant challenges and opportunities ahead for both Network Rail and the industry such as the comprehensive spending review, the McNulty value for money review and the planning of HS2.

“Public, passengers, politicians and the industry are demanding a better, safer railway delivered at a lower cost where success will depend on pervasive collaboration. David is well-placed to lead both Network Rail and the industry forward to meet these challenges.”

Higgins said: “It has been a privilege to lead the ODA over the last five years and I am leaving with the Olympic Park on time, within budget and with the finish line in sight.

“Looking forward, Network Rail is one of the most important companies in the UK – an efficient railway underpins a modern economy – and therefore a challenge I could not turn down.

“Network Rail and the rail industry have transformed the train service in Britain in the last eight years – trains run on time and the railway is safer than ever.

“My priority is to bring Network Rail and the industry closer so that together we can continue to improve service, efficiency and safety and add much needed capacity to a railway network that is nearly full.”

In the interim period prior to Mr Higgins start date and following the departure of Iain Coucher, Peter Henderson will take on the role of acting chief executive. Peter Henderson is currently Director, Asset Management.

Finance director Dennis Hone will replace Higgins at the ODA.

John Armitt, Chairman of the ODA and former head of Network Rail, said: “David has done an inspirational job at the ODA over the last five years.

“We have been tasked with delivering the biggest construction project in Europe on a highly contaminated site to the ultimate fixed deadline.

“David set up the ODA from scratch and leaves it with the project on time, within budget and on the verge of completing the first major venues on the Olympic Park.

“He has done all this at the same time as helping achieve a first class safety record and driving forward innovation in terms of sustainable construction.

“This is an exciting opportunity for David and I am sure he will do a brilliant job leading Network Rail over the years to come.

“Dennis Hone, who replaces him, has been Director of Finance at the ODA for the last four years. He has played a key role in our success to date and is a first class replacement. He will give the ODA important continuity as we face the challenges that lie ahead.”

Dennis Hone said: “This is a change of Chief Executive for the ODA but it does not mean a change of direction or focus.

“The challenge ahead of us is to continue to hit our milestones, bear down on costs and complete the venue construction at the same time as maintaining our excellent record on health and safety.”

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