HS2's New Boss Appointed On £591k Salary
The new boss of the controversial HS2 rail project has been appointed on a salary of £591,000 a year.
Sir David Higgins, former chief executive of the UK's Olympic Delivery Authority and current Network Rail boss, is taking over as HS2 Ltd chairman.
He replaces Doug Oakervee, who has announced he is standing down at the end of the year.
Australian Sir David will join on a one-day-a-week basis next January, when he will be entitled to £950 in pay per day.
He will take up the post full-time in March 2014, when he will be on an annual salary of £591,000 - matching his current pay package at NR.
It is understood he will only work full-time for six months before taking a three-days-a-week role.
However, the salary details will raise fresh concerns about the cost of the vast project, which has already spiralled to £50bn.
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls signalled this week that a Labour government could scrap HS2 if it does not remain good value for money.
It has faced a raft of criticism in recent months amid rumours the price tag could eventually escalate to £80bn.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin hailed Sir David's record and said his experience would help "to ensure we deliver HS2 on time and on budget".
He will work alongside HS2 Ltd chief executive Alison Munro, who earlier on Wednesday defended the project in the face of recent attacks.
Ms Munro said: "We have never asked for a blank cheque, neither do we want or need one.
"We fully understand the need to keep costs around the project under control. We look forward to bringing HS2 home, on time and within budget."
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander added insisted the scheme and other coalition transport projects were "absolutely essential to the long-term future of our economy".
Taking a dig at critics, he said: "It would be absolute folly to neglect these long-term benefits for short-term political reasons."
Sir David insisted HS2 was the "right solution" to rail capacity issues and improving journey times between northern cities.
"It is vital for both passengers and the economy and will put the UK in a different league in terms of infrastructure," he said.
"My first priority will be to rigorously scrutinise costs to ensure they remain under control.
"HS2 presents a strategic opportunity for this country and I am determined to make sure we take it by delivering a railway that will allow business and communities to prosper in the long term."