New ODA chairman must finalise plans with Sir Robert McAlpine

John Armitt’s first task in his role as chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) will be to draw to a close the fierce negotiations over the main Olympic stadium and get the deal signed.

John Armitt ODA chair
John Armitt: "I look forward to providing leadership as we move to next stage."

A source close to the stadium negotiations said the preferred consortium led by contractor Sir Robert McAlpine had become increasingly frustrated by delays as the ODA put off making final decisions until a chairman had been appointed.

It is thought that the ODA wanted to wait until the chairman was in place before closing the deal to ensure that they bought in to the project.

Armitt, who is currently chief executive of Railtrack, was named ODA chairman on a five-year contract with a £250,000 salary after a six-month selection process.

He starts the job at the beginning of September.

One of his first tasks will be to finalise the price and options for the roof of the main stadium.

Building revealed on 9 February that design plans for the main stadium were being scaled back to save money. It has still to be decided whether the stadium will have no roof or just a partial roof.

Armitt, 61, was appointed chief executive of Network Rail in October 2002 and is a civil engineer by training. In the past he has had various roles at John Laing and was chief executive of Union Railways, which was responsible for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. He was chief executive of Costain from 1997 to 2001.

He is described as a formal man who is an adept politician, clear thinker and good communicator.

He succeeds Jack Lemley, who resigned last year and has since publicly attacked the ODA saying that he had been frustrated by lack of progress. It is thought he wanted a more hands-on role (see box below).

Armitt, however, is understood to be keen to play the strategic role that the 3.5-day a week job requires. Armitt said this week that he looked forward to “providing leadership as the programme moves to the next stage”.

Tessa Jowell, the Olympics minister, said he had “a formidable amount of experience”.

Until now Sir Roy McNulty, who also went for the job, has been acting ODA chair.