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Sir David Higgins: I'll involve contractors early to speed up HS2

Incoming HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins has told Construction News he will engage with construction firms early to speed up the delivery of HS2.

Talking at the opening of the new King’s Cross Square, Sir David said he would look to work with contractors on HS2 in a similar ways to those he has introduced as chief executive of Network Rail.

“All I would say to rail contractors and the rail design industry: look at what we’ve sought to do in the last two to three years.

“We’ve sought to open our organisation up to be less prescriptive on the designs and to engage them much earlier in the design stage.”

He pointed to work Network Rail had done through “big alliances” at Stafford, as well as the East Midlands under “a whole new model”, and highlighted the project completed at Hitchin using a ‘joint-venture’ delivery team as an effective model to capitalise on expertise and innovation from the private sector.

He said: “It’s the way I’ve been used to, because my background was in construction and heavy infrastructure in the private sector, so I think I have some idea of what the private sector can do.

“I’m all for early engagement.”

Sir David said that he was unconcerned by questions raised over HS2 by several prominent Labour politicians, after shadow chancellor Ed Balls said this week HS2 would be reviewed if Labour came to power and insisted there would be no ‘blank cheque’.

He said: “They are saying what anyone would say – that we’ve got to be responsible about the budget. This isn’t a blank cheque.

“We didn’t have a blank cheque for the Olympics and after we went through the approval of the budget with the Public Accounts Committee we committed to produce a very detailed document which could then be held accountable to parliament every six months.

“I’d come back regularly and explain what progress had been made with that £9.3bn that we got.”


Click here to read a special report on Network Rail’s Staffordshire Alliance; a partnership of Atkins, Laing O’Rourke, Network Rail and VolkerRail.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin told Construction News it was “important” to get a cross-party consensus for the project.

He said: “The plan I’ve got at the moment for the first phase was actually the plan of the previous government – Andrew Adonis introduced it.”

Mr McLoughlin added that he hoped Sir David would use his knowledge of major projects and rail to benefit HS2.

He said: “He brings experience of what happened with the Olympics and of running Network Rail.

“Having been involved in the present rail industry and our Victorian rail structure, he is able to bring all of that to the front of HS2. I’m delighted he’s accepted the job.”

Earlier in the day, Sir David had told Radio 4’s Today programme that Britain’s “ageing Victorian rail system is operating way over capacity”.

Sir David will take over as chairman of HS2 in January 2014, leaving his current role as chief executive of Network Rail. He will join part-time on 1 January before taking up the role full-time in March.

Outgoing HS2 chairman Doug Oakervee will remain in post to oversee the introduction of the government’s Hybrid Bill before the end of this year.

Former Shell executive vice-president Mark Carne will replace Sir David as Network Rail chief executive.

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