HS2 boss defends gravy train accusations over six figure salaries

An artist's impression of how HS2 could look
An artist's impression of how HS2 could look

The six-figure salaries of bosses working on the high speed rail project have been defended by one of its directors.

Tom Kelly, director of stakeholder engagement at HS2, insisted that pay packages are "decided by the market".

Opponents of the £55.7bn rail scheme claim the number of high earners is excessive.

Cabinet Office data shows that HS2 Ltd, the taxpayer-owned company behind the project, paid 51 employees at least £150,000 per year as of September 2017.

The highest earner is chief executive Mark Thurston, with a £600,000 salary.

Former chief financial officer Steve Allen left the company in March after earning £415,000 per year.

Phase 1 managing director Jim Crawford has a £400,000 annual pay deal.

The Times reported last month that one in four people at HS2 Ltd earn at least £100,000 in salary and perks.

Mr Kelly said: "The amount of salary that we have to pay is decided by the market.

"We cannot order people to work for HS2. We have to compete in the market and it's not just a British market, it's a global market.

"We have to have the people who are qualified to do the job because if we don't then the asset will not last over a century.

"This is something that has been designed to serve this country for over a century."

Phase 1 of the railway will open between London and Birmingham in December 2026.

A second Y-shaped phase will launch in two stages.

Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe will begin in 2027, followed by Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and Birmingham to Leeds, in 2033.

The tabling of a bill in Parliament for Phase 2b is being delayed by 12 months to ensure integration with Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is a scheme to boost east-west rail connections across the North.

Mr Kelly insisted the decision "doesn't change the end date".

He added: "This allows us to integrate into the existing network, so that's a good thing."