NuGen Properties

Vacant HS2 chair finally filled after two years

Vacant HS2 chair finally filled after two years

Sir Jon Thompson
Sir Jon Thompson

Sir Jon Thompson, chief executive of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) since 2019, has been on the board of HS2 since April 2021. He took over as interim chair when Allan Cook left three months later.

Allan Cook had handed in his notice in February 2021. The Department of Transport has spent the two years since then trying to find someone who both wants the job and might be any good at it.

Sir Jon Thompson is a former permanent secretary – the top rank of the civil service – at both the Ministry of Defence and HM Revenue & Customs.

Sir Jon Thompson said: “During my time on the board, this monumental project has already achieved some incredible milestones and I’ve seen first-hand how it will transform not only journeys but the lives of people across the country.

“I look forward to working with our first-class stakeholders and partners in my new role, to ensure it this once in a lifetime opportunity fulfils its pioneering potential.”

As HS2 chair, he is leaving his job at the FRC at the end of his six months’ notice period and in the interim will be FRC chief executive on a part time basis.

One of his first actions as chair was to out his name to an article in today’s Daily Telegraph to rebut suggestions that the project was “a global laughingstock” as one Telegraph columnist recently argued.

“As the first new railway to be built in over a century that binds Britain’s North, Midlands and the South together, it shares the same vision of Victorian pioneers who first built our railways,” he writes. “HS2 is at heart an economic project. All we are building – the stations, tracks, tunnels, bridges, trains – and the speeds they will travel at – will help drive growth, rebalance the economy together and unite the country both physically and economically.

“I concede, it is a lot of money. Though spread over 30 years, it is a more modest annual budget. But why is it more expensive to build in Britain than in say China?

“Here we do not ride roughshod over the environment, over planning law, over local authorities and local people. We have some of the strictest planning and environmental legislation in the world.”

He also defends the environmental damage that the construction of HS2 inevitable involves.

“We know HS2 will have an environmental impact as we build it. However, for context, the carbon footprint of the construction and operation of HS2 between the West Midlands and London over 120 years is equivalent to just one month’s road emissions in the UK.

“Despite this, we are still doing everything we can to limit the amount of carbon emitted during construction, including all our sites going diesel free by 2029.

“HS2 is a huge prize for the UK and will bring new prosperity to the Midlands and the North. But as I travel up and down the country and meet the people building this great endeavour, it is the 30,000 people building our world leading new railway, a new wave of young graduates and apprentices – a new generation of Brunels – that make me most proud. Something, I feel, we should all be proud of.”

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