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Armitt's appointment to top ODA job widely welcomed

News

NETWORK RAIL'S retiring chairman John Armitt has nally put an end to speculation with his appointment as the new head of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA).

he announcement was predicted in NCE as long ago as December when Armitt announced he was quitting Network Rail (NCE 14 December) although he denied at the time that he had the new job sewn up.

Armitt's appointment as ODA chairman puts a civil engineer back in charge of the construction of the London Olympics after a seven month hiatus following Jack Lemley's decision to quit in October last year. Caretaker chairman Sir Roy McNulty is to continue as Armitt's deputy.

Like Lemley, Armitt, 60, has extensive construction and contracting experience. But unlike Lemley, he also has years of knowledge gained from acting as a client in the notoriously tricky rail industry. In his public sector role he gained the respect of government ministers, select committees and other politicians.

This will be useful to Armitt at the ODA where his job will be as much about managing politicians - in particular the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Mayor of London - as the mechanics of the show, where he already has the capable David Higgins as chief executive.

Armitt formally takes up the role in September. He said he was 'looking forward to providing leadership' as the Games construction programme moves onto site.

He is earning £250,000 a year for a three and a half day week.

His arrival at the ODA was welcomed by those who know him.

'He will knock a lot of sense into the ODA. It's clearly getting its procurement wrong - look at the way it's struggling to get bids. And it's failing to communicate with the industry. It's coming over as arrogant, as if we should be grateful to work with them. Yet the truth is we're all very busy and the ODA should be wooing us, the suppliers, not the other way round, ' said a senior director at one major consultant.

'We think it's brilliant, ' said an ODA insider. 'He's a civil engineer and we're delighted about that. He's handled the dif cult stuff so well, from Costain to Grayrigg. He's a fabulous guy, calm and very honest.' Atkins chief executive Keith Clarke said: 'The Higgins/ Armitt combination is stunning.

It's really important that John is an engineer and a good one. You need people at the top of the Olympics with the skill to create large physical programmes and able to communicate what is happening and why.

'It is particularly important that politicians understand that there comes a point when you can't make changes. John will be able to bridge that gap, and he's a thoroughly decent bloke as well.'

Armitt in brief

1966-1993: Joined John Laing as graduate civil engineer rising to chairman of Laing's international and civil engineering division. Led the successful bid for the toll-nanced Second Severn Crossing.

1993-1997: Chief executive, Union Railways. Saw the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill through Parliament.

1997-2001: Chief executive, Costain. Company saved from financial collapse and fortunes revived.

2001-2002: Chief executive, Railtrack. Oversaw successful transition to Network Rail as rail industry threatened to implode.

2002-2007: Chief executive, Network Rail: put engineering back at the heart of the railways, pulled maintenance back in-house, revived public condence in rail travel which was retained even after the Grayrigg tragedy this year.

2007: Appointed chairman, Olympic Delivery Authority.

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