Peter Hollins, yesterday resigned as Chief Executive Officer of nuclear power generator British Energy plc, after a reported bust-up with fellow board members. Chairman designate, Dr. Robin Jeffrey will succeed Hollins, who left the company immediately following his resignation, until a permanent replacement is appointed.

A spokesman for British Energy declined to comment on the reasons for the sudden departure saying, “This is a matter between Mr. Hollins and the company”. Hollins, 53, a former ICI executive, took over in 1998 has reportedly suffered criticism from some British Energy directors who claimed longer experience in the nuclear industry.

The group profits fell sharply last year from �241 million to �10 million due to lower UK electricity prices and unforeseen breakdowns at two nuclear plants. Mr Hollins has presided over a steep decline in the company’s share price from a peak of 815p. The share price today stood at around 270p at lunchtime, a drop of 7p from the overnight level and 17p lower than the level prior to Hollins departure.

Dr. Jeffrey, who led the company’s successful expansion into North America, will be appointed full time executive Chairman when Sir John Robb retires later this year. Sir Robert Biggam, currently senior independent director, becomes Deputy Chairman with immediate effect. In addition, David Gilchrist, currently executive Vice President, Finance for Bruce Power, is appointed managing Director of British Energy’s nuclear generation businesses.

These management changes will not alter the company’s strategy, according to the spokesman, who said that British Energy will focus on getting the best results from its UK nuclear and gas-fired plants as well as maximising returns in North America. Any future growth was likely to be in the nuclear area adding, “whilst no particular region is being targeted, the company would be looking to see what the US market has to offer”.

UK press speculation suggests that Hollins had been under pressure from directors concerned about planned cuts at the group’s UK nuclear power stations – aimed at cost savings of �150 million by 2003. But in a company press release Robin Jeffrey stated, ” British Energy remains committed to our long term strategic objectives, in particular our �150m cost saving target. There has been no change in the Company’s performance and outlook since the preliminary results in May”.

Commenting on the board shake-up he said,” With these changes I believe we have now got the right team which will show the same drive, commitment and leadership that produced such positive results in North America. We are in a stronger position than ever to deliver shareholder value”.

British Energy is responsible for 20 per cent of UK electricity generation and has also built a significant business in Canada through its Bruce Power subsidiary.