THE Department for Transport (DfT) has announced the appointment of Sir Jonathan Thompson as chair of HS2 Ltd, the company responsible for building Britain’s second high-speed line, running from London to Birmingham and the north of England.

Thompson was formerly deputy chair. His experience at the most senior levels of the civil service includes the post of chief executive at the Financial Reporting Council and permanent secretary at both the Ministry of Defence and HM Revenue and Customs.

He had been acting as interim chair of HS2 Ltd following the departure of Mr Allan Cook in July 2021 and has now taken up the role on a permanent basis.

Thompson is succeeded as deputy chair by Ms Elaine Holt, a non-executive director of HS2 Ltd whose rail industry experience includes senior positions at RATP Dev, National Express and Directly Operated Railways (DOR).

The appointment of a new chair comes at “a pivotal time” for HS2, according to DfT, as work at London Euston progresses under Phase 1 of the project and the bill to obtain powers for Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester makes its way through parliament.

DfT says that Thompson will provide “strategic leadership, oversight and accountability for the HS2 programme, ensuring it is delivered on time and in budget while continuing to create jobs, boost local economies and provide much needed capacity on our railways.”

According to recent media reports, the government is conducting a major review of the project in order to keep costs under control, with official estimates of the total cost ranging from £72bn to £98bn.

Options reported to be under consideration include terminating the line at Old Oak Common in west London rather than at Euston, reducing the maximum speed or cutting the train service to just 10 trains an hour.

“We are building HS2 responsibly and I have a heavy responsibility to safeguard the investment being made by the British people,” Thompson wrote in recent opinion piece for The Telegraph.

“It means making tough choices when faced with new challenges,” he says. “Today’s challenge is inflation. As the government’s largest project, HS2 is not immune. Last year, inflation for construction costs was running at 12%, the highest since the 1970s.”

“Many of our suppliers are now facing cost increases incompatible with what they committed to deliver just a few years ago,” Thompson says. “We have a responsibility, along with all other parts of government, to adjust to this new reality and play our part in helping to deliver sound public finances.

“But make no mistake, the government has committed to building HS2 from Manchester to London.”

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