Exclusive: ‘Captain Invisible’ goes missing in inaction - HS2 chief takes three months off with torn calf muscle

Douglas Oakervee has been accused of rarely publicly defending the high-speed rail link since its cost spiralled by around £10bn earlier this summer

The Government’s planned high-speed rail link between London and Manchester has continued its descent into chaos as Douglas Oakervee, the veteran chairman of the £42.6bn railway project, has been forced to take three months off with a torn calf muscle.

Mr Oakervee’s leadership and experience is considered crucial at what is now a key juncture for the project, which would cut journey times from London to Birmingham to just 49 minutes.

By the end of the year, HS2 Ltd, the advisory body set up by the Department for Transport to oversee the railway, must introduce to Parliament a “hybrid” Bill that weighs a quarter of a ton, the biggest of its type in legislative history.

Mr Oakervee, 72, was selected to chair the body because he successfully steered the hybrid Bill for London’s Crossrail project through Parliament under the last Labour government.

However, he will now be absent in the months leading up to the time the Bill is deposited, possibly in late November, The Independent has learnt.

Sources close to the project said the former president of the Institution of Civil Engineers would be recuperating for three months, while an HS2 insider insisted that he would simply be “seen around the office less often”.

“‘Captain Invisible’ gets even more time hiding in his garden,” said one industry source, referring to a nickname given to Mr Oakervee by one of his critics.

Mr Oakervee has been accused of rarely publicly defending HS2 since its cost spiralled by around £10bn earlier this summer. This led to a wave of attacks on the proposal, including a former supporter and Chancellor Alistair Darling declaring himself to have become an “HS2 sceptic”.

Some industry sources said there was anger that Mr Oakervee had left HS2 chief executive Alison Munro, a career civil servant with little training in dealing with the media, to defend the project on the BBC’s Today programme over the summer.

However, in an interview with The Independent on Sunday last weekend, Mr Oakervee pointed out that he had been on holiday in Hong Kong at the time and that it would be “catastrophic” for the country if the project was ditched.

The leadership vacuum also comes at a time when the Government and HS2’s supporters are launching a vigorous fight-back against the well-organised network of campaign groups opposing the railway.

Last week, both David Cameron and the Chancellor, George Osborne, spoke at length of how HS2 would benefit the British economy, claiming that it would create at least 100,000 jobs.

The Department for Transport has also tried to publicly dispel some of the “myths” surrounding the project, such as the Institute of Directors’ claim that once the second phase, which takes the railway in a Y-shaped route to Manchester and Leeds, is completed, the total bill could reach £80bn.

Today, as part of the fight-back, KPMG publishes a report that shows HS2 could benefit the economy by £15bn a year and that the regions rather than London would be the big winners, countering criticisms made by the powerful Public Accounts Committee earlier this week.

In a letter to the Prime Minister published this morning, the Director-General of the British Chamber of Commerce, John Longworth, urged the Government to continue backing HS2. 

He said: “Construction of HS2 … will help Britain’s economic performance move from good to great. It is the best sort of radical infrastructure investment.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Bob Dylan
art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?