HS2 moves to reassure as chief exec Simon Kirby departs

The chairman of HS2 Ltd David Higgins has moved rapidly to reassure that the departure of its chief executive Simon Kirby does not indicate trouble for the circa £60bn high speed rail project. In a statement issued in response to Kirby's announcement over the weekend, Higgins said:

"In his two and a half years with the company, Simon has used his vast experience to recruit and shape a world class team which over the coming years and decades will turn HS2 into a reality that will be of lasting benefit to this country. That team will continue that process as we start and complete the process of finding Simon’s successor."

Kirby is joining Rolls Royce to be the company's chief operating officer for its aero-engines business. Before joining HS2 in 2014 he was managing director of Network Rail's infrastructure projects division, which he joined in 2003 from BAE Systems.

"I am delighted for both Simon and Rolls Royce that he has been appointed to this position," Higgins said. "While naturally we will miss his experience and leadership, I also recognise that he is joining a truly great, global company in an industry in which he has previously worked."

Higgins' statement also announced the appointment of Mel Ewel, former chief executive of Amey, as a non executive director of HS2.

"Mel's great experience in the construction industry speaks for itself, as does the huge respect in which he is held. As such he will be a great asset to the Board’s deliberations as we move to the point of construction," Higgins said.

Royal Assent for the HS2 Act is expected later this year, as is award of the first £7bn of major contracts for construction of Phase One of HS2 from London Euston to Birmingham.  This is out of an initial total of £11bn of contracts due to be awarded for Phase One over the following 12-18 months. The total budgeted cost of Phase One, due to be completed in 2026, is now estimated at around £30bn.

In a departing statement, Simon Kirby said: "HS2 is not just a highly ambitious project, but also one which will leave a lasting legacy for Britain. It has been, therefore, a huge honour to have been its Chief Executive and to have been involved in creating a leadership team made up of the best talents from this country and elsewhere. I have absolute confidence in their ability to deliver the project and, in doing so, to help transform the way we do things in this country.