Campaigners have slammed the news that HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby has quit the rail project for Rolls-Royce just weeks ahead of a government decision on whether to greenlight the next phase of the project, accusing him of seeking to leave "before the mess he has presided over is realised".
Simon Kirby will leave for the engines giant at the end of the year, leaving HS2 without a chief executive as the Department of Transport mulls a final decision on whether an extension from Birmingham onwards to Leeds and Manchester will go ahead.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling is due to issue his verdict in the autumn.
Kirby only joined HS2 in 2014, and his decision has left bosses behind the infrastructure project seeking a replacement before his departure at the end of the year.
HS2 chairman David Higgins has agreed to remain in place until at least a new chief executive is recruited, and the rail scheme is also seeking to recruit a chief operating officer.
Campaigners against the project said that Kirby had failed to justify his reported salary of £750,000, with the project delayed amid concerns of funding shortfalls.
Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said that Kirby was “getting out” before “the mess he has presided over is realised”.
“The departure of Simon Kirby will be a serious blow to those who champion HS2, though many of us are at a complete loss to see just exactly what it is he has done to justify his three-quarter of a million pay packet,” Rukin said.
In a statement, Kirby said that leading the project had been an “honour”.
“I have absolute confidence in their ability to deliver the project and, in doing so, to help transform the way we do things in this country,” he said.