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
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Recruitment Genius: Chef de Partie

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This award winning conference venues provider...

Recruitment Genius: Admin Assistant

£12000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding Insurance Brokerag...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Mechanic / Plant Fitter

£24000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Lancashire based engineeri...

Recruitment Genius: Service Advisor

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders