TRIBUTES have been paid to one of the region’s most eminent business men, building tycoon Sir Lawrence Barratt.

Known as Sir Lawrie and renowned for being the high profile face at the helm of Barratt Developments for more than 35 years, he died at his Corbridge home aged 85.

Best known for the advertising campaign featuring the Barratt helicopter, Sir Lawrie was one of the UK’s best-known business men in his heyday.

It is thought he had never fully recovered from a harrowing ordeal two years ago, when three masked burglars armed with crowbars burst into at his Byethorne home, tying up and gagging he and his wife Lady Sheila, and making off with jewellery worth more than £1m.

Born and brought up in the North-East, Sir Lawrie left school at 14 and trained as an accountant. In 1953, he decided to build his own house in Darras Hall, Ponteland, near Newcastle, after becoming frustrated with the unaffordable price of houses for first-time buyers.

Barratt Developments was founded in 1958 as Greensitt Bros, with Sir Lawrie, as both chairman and chief executive, assuming control in 1962 with business partner Lewis Greensitt, renaming the firm Barratt Developments in 1963, and taking the company forward with a five-year expansion plan.

The company, which is today worth in excess of £2bn, was floated on the Stock Exchange in 1968, with Lewis Greensitt leaving shortly after the flotation.

Under Sir Lawrie’s leadership, the 1970s saw Barratt making a series of acquisitions, transforming the company from a regional house builder to a national construction firm, building around 10,000 houses a year.

The firm also grew organically, aided by a national high-profile marketing campaign featuring Patrick Allan and the helicopter, and by innovative deals, including both starter homes for first time buyers and part exchanges.

In 1983, the firm sold a record 16,500 houses and become the nation’s largest housebuilder.

But the next two years were turbulent for the firm, with sales plummeting by half after two ITV World in Action programmes criticising timber frames and starter homes.

Sir Lawrie, knighted in the 1982 New Year Honours, led a total restructuring of the company, abandoning timber framed construction, launching a new product range, and concentrating on the more profitable trade-up market, before he retired in 1988.

In 1991, he was called out of retirement after the company was badly hit by a recession.

He retired for good in 1997, retaining significant shares, and was made life president of the firm.

Mark Clare, chief executive of Barratt Developments, said: “Sir Lawrie brought home ownership within reach of many people through innovative support for home buyers.

“I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK today, across every walk of life, that have bought or lived in homes enabled by Sir Lawrie.”