Cities and towns across the country have a lot to thank Anthony Hodge for.
He has been the mastermind behind driving the regeneration of places like the mining town Mansfield after the pits closed, the historic city of Chester and the lively Sheffield.
And now he has Gloucester in his sights.
The 45-year-old has taken on the role of head of regeneration at Gloucester City Council and since his first day on January 6 he has been busy getting to know the city.
A big rugby fan, he likens the challenge of pulling together everyone who is helping to regenerate the city like running a rugby team.
“We have got to work together as Team Gloucester,” he says. “It is just like a rugby team – we have all got a role to play. I would probably be the scrum half, keeping it tight in the scrum and spreading it wider on the sides.”
Anthony, who grew up in Wells and Bristol, believes King’s Quarter is still our most important challenge, with the Blackfriars site, last week earmarked for a five-star hotel, 2,000 homes, offices, a justice centre and a civic centre, coming a close second.
But what were his first impressions when he came to the city?
“When I first came to Gloucester, my opinion of it was mixed,” he said. “I thought there was some fabulous bits and there was a real vibe to the city and that it was a fantastic place. But there were obvious opportunities too.
“The Golden Egg was still up when I came and I thought that needed to be dealt with. I could see that around the bus station needed attention. There was some fabulous stuff like the Docks and the Quays.
“Above all I was really excited by it and I thought I could contribute to that.”
Dad-of-two Anthony gets around a bit. He spends his weekends with his landscape architect wife Jacki, 10-year-old son Louis and seven-year-old daughter Niamh in south Manchester before making his commute back to Gloucester for the weekdays. He comes from a musical family too – Louis has taken up learning the trumpet, while Niamh plays the piano. Anthony himself used to play the French horn until he caught a cricket ball in his mouth at high-speed, putting pay to his musical ways.
But Anthony is also a keep fit man – he goes to The Gym at the Docks three times per week, has scaled all 14 peaks in Wales and has completed the London Marathon.
“It shows I’ve got the stamina and determination for the job,” he says.
But he knows from his extensive career that every town or city faces it challenges. He said: “Chester had its challenges that perhaps people didn’t see on the surface. It had trouble with a large retail development that couldn’t get off the ground.
“My career so far has given me a really good experience in places like Sheffield and Chester and before that in Mansfield for 10 years after the pits closed down.
“Regeneration is in my DNA. I am passionate about it. When I go on holiday I can’t help but look around the public realm and if I can find a tall building to look down from, I will go to it. But even closer to home, in places like Bristol, Manchester or Liverpool, I am looking at what is going on around me.
“It is one thing to look at what everyone else is doing, but we have also got our own identity as a city.”
Anthony admits there will be ‘tensions’ with the city council’s regeneration partners and possibly even some setbacks along the way, but that it is normal when you have such a big challenge on your hands.
How do our city’s major redevelopment sites fit into his vision?
It was only last week that city MP Richard Graham announced in Parliament a vision to transform the Greater Blackfriars area, including the former prison site.
“Blackfriars is one of our next major opportunities,” said Anthony. “Our priority is absolutely King’s Quarter and the bus station but we also look forward to driving forward Blackfriars where it will be great to get a collaborative developer involved. We could create a fabulous environment.
“Unfortunately with history, such as the prison site, comes uncertainty for developers and they can sometimes shy away from that but we need to showcase the heritage as a centrepiece.
“The prison site could be a fantastic place. The obvious answer is a mixed scheme with a hotel and some offices. We have got to find a purpose to support the value of bringing it back into use. But we should keep our options and not chase things at any cost.
“As for King’s Quarter, this is a really important year. Now that we have the funding in place from the Local Transport Board for the bus station, we want that to come together with various other funding applications. We are also carrying on with important negotiations with the principle landowner Aviva.”
Sceptics of the King’s Quarter development have welcomed the city council’s demolition of the Golden Egg, cosmetic improvements to the square and a successful funding bid for the bus station, but they fear it is a case of smoke and mirrors to hide inaction by King’s Quarter developers Stanhope.
Anthony dismisses this though. He said: “Stanhope might not be out there with a digger on the ground, but I spend an awful lot of time with their director Martyn Chase. We are working really closely with them, putting in bids together. We are absolutely there. At the end of the day it will be them who bring forward the main developments.
“We have to remember the country has been through a difficult time. Sheffield and Chester both lost their retail schemes but hopefully now, at last, the sun is starting to come out.”
He also points to improvement works in the Gate streets, such as adding new lighting to St Michael’s Tower and St Nicholas’ Church, as ways of showing off the heritage on the city centre streets at its best.
Whatever happens, he says Gloucester’s passion to better itself is crucial. He said: “The city is fabulous and there is a real passion here. For example, when I was in King’s Square the other day people were coming up to me asking me what is going on. It was great to see so many people interested in what we are doing.
“I’m really excited to get started.”