Motivated regenerator

As chief executive of the North Northants Development Company Bob Lane foresees a great future for the area and is keen to get to work on bringing this about, he tells Christina Papas.

Corby in Northamptonshire is one of a clutch of UK towns to get some good news recently. Network Rail announced last month that it would dedicate £1.2 million to a new station for the area as part of its £2.4 billion investment in rail expansion.

North Northants Development Company (NNDC) chief executive Bob Lane is delighted. "This is a further boost to the town's regeneration and will help us meet our target of 1,000 homes a year by 2011," he says. "We do not have the service yet but we are heartened that they are putting the budget in place."

The long-awaited project still needs approval from the Department for Transport, which is due later this year. It also depends on £4 million from DCLG and English Partnerships to fund the station building itself.

Lane is adamant that the scheme is key to growing Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough under the government's sustainable communities plan. More than 50,000 homes and 47,000 jobs are planned for the area to 2021.

"There is a major employment issue in the area. Unemployment is not high but we have a lot of low-paid and low-skilled jobs," Lane notes. "We also have the broader responsibility of making sure that growth can take place by delivering the infrastructure that will allow housing to come forward."

Corby set for major growth

The urban regeneration company now awaits the local development framework core strategy, which has been submitted by the North Northamptonshire Joint Planning Unit and is due to be adopted by next spring. This will allow the NNDC to "begin getting its hands dirty" and roll out regeneration programmes in areas that Lane admits have not traditionally been at the receiving end of government funding.

"The sheer amount of change with which this region is being asked to cope is probably the biggest challenge," he contends. "Corby itself has accepted this because it is a new town, but the rest of the area is having to cope with a lot of regeneration. The challenge is to ensure that this is done properly with the right amount of growth and infrastructure."

The NNDC was formed last year through a merger between the North Northants Together partnership and Catalyst Corby. Most of the team came from the latter body, where Lane was chief executive. His role was to turn around Corby's fortunes, badly hit when the steelworks closed in 1980 and 14,000 people lost their jobs. But the area is now a step ahead of its neighbours, with many of Lane's projects coming to fruition.

"Corby never grew to the size originally intended when it was declared a new town in 1950," he remarks. "So Catalyst Corby came up with a strategy to get growth moving again and use the wealth it created to regenerate the town."

Lane's name is attached to many high-profile regeneration projects in the past two decades. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, he cut his teeth at the London Borough of Lambeth, where he was head of inner city policy at the time of the Brixton riots. Under his leadership several environmental, housing and community projects were funded including housing estate programmes and the rebirth of the Brixton Academy.

"Loss of employment and lack of employment opportunities were problems in a lot of inner cities at the time. That is what dominated Lambeth as a borough, so in that respect I began specialising in regeneration," he reflects.

Lane later took a job working for Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, the area where he grew up. But he left after only two years because he wanted a role that "got deep into regeneration projects".

He took up a post at the Merseyside Development Corporation, one of two urban development corporations set up by the government in 1981. In that year, the area had suffered from the Toxteth riots and by the time Lane joined in 1990 the corporation was seen to have a weak record in dealing with community issues.

Confidence inspires renewal

Lane comments: "I brought with me from Brixton the confidence to deal with community organisations and develop the community itself." His first post as chief executive was at Speke Garston Development Company, a joint venture between the Northwest Development Agency and Liverpool City Council.

Throughout his six years there, he led the economic and physical regeneration of 243ha in south Liverpool, helping to attract £300 million of private sector investment and 4,600 jobs to the area. Projects that he brought forward include the 121ha Estuary Commerce Park, a prestigious business location, as well as the Boulevard Industry Park and a hotel and leisure complex at the site of the former Speke Aerodrome.

"This was important because up until that point Liverpool City Council had not got involved in any joint ventures," Lane points out. "There was a lot of scepticism because the community had seen all sorts of initiatives fail before. But it did brilliantly because we had this very powerful partnership."

He adds: "The great advantage of jobs such as these is that they are very satisfying if you can pull together the various players and they allow you the luxury of focusing. The flip side is the criticism you might get from time to time. But the hugely positive thing is that you can go back to areas and see the projects in which you have been involved. The jobs are incredibly enjoyable and I am privileged to be able to do them."

Age 57
Family: Married with two children
Education: BA in general arts, Manchester Polytechnic, 1971
Interests: Fell walking, theatre and opera, motor sport
2006: Chief executive, North Northants Development Company
2004: Awarded OBE for services to regeneration
2002: Chief executive, Catalyst Corby
1996: Chief executive, Speke Garston Development Company
1990: Assistant chief executive, Merseyside Development Corporation
1988: Head of policy unit, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council
1982: Co-ordinator, Lambeth Inner City Partnership

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