LUGANO Property Group is quietly changing the face of urban regeneration.

Putting conservation and architectural integrity at the heart of all of its projects, the firm is adept at fulfilling the most technical of briefs.

Lugano’s current portfolio of property stands at about £130m and the company’s team have worked in partnership on projects with large organisations including Tesco and Pizza Express, who occupy part of the portfolio in the prestigious Acorn Road, in Jesmond, Newcastle.

The firm also successfully owns and operates its own apart-hotel in Jesmond, Kensington House, as well as popular city brasserie bar Babucho on Newcastle’s bustling Quayside.

“We like a challenge,” said Richard, chairman of Lugano Property Group. “We like projects that are technical and potentially difficult. It’s great to be able to breathe new life into an old building that would otherwise fall into a state of disrepair, or that others wouldn’t take on – it’s what we we’re good at and what we specialise in.”

Richard is former chief executive of Tynedale Council, which amalgamated with Northumberland County Council in 2008 to become a unitary authority. He joined Lugano seven years ago as Development Director and took over as Group Chairman two years later.

He also served Easington District Council as assistant chief executive, overseeing high-profile projects like the regeneration of Seaham and creation of retail outlet Dalton Park.

His background in successfully delivering large-scale development projects for local authorities has helped cement Lugano Property Group’s reputation as one of the north’s most innovative and progressive property developers.

The firm is responsible for the regeneration of part of the former Tyne Tees TV base above Newcastle’s Quayside, named Aerial House, due to the 30m aerial that used to be located on the roof; it has completed major projects in High Bridge Street and the Bigg Market - both a mix of commercial and leisure developments, including a major hotel now operated by Motel One, as well as partnering with the Council on key sites in the regeneration of Whitley Bay. Lugano has also acquired new offices and business premesis at key city centre locations in Stockton, Teesside as part of its continued expansion.

As well as Richard, Lugano is overseen by two other directors, planning director Scott Munro and commercial director Allan Henderson, and has 80 direct employees.

The firm is owned by local entrepreneur and Ultimate Leisure founder, Allan Rankin, along with a long standing charitable organisation that reinvests 100% of his profit into charitable work.

“We’re an interesting company,” says Richard. “Our owners take a keen interest in the work we do and the projects we’re delivering, but they leave the day to day running to ourselves.

“We aim to stimulate regeneration where we can, delivering projects that revive places that would perhaps become derelict – we want to do good in a part of the world we care about.

“Our offices are in a building that was originally a bonded warehouse where goods would be stored after being shipped into the Tyne, but people remember it as The Riverside music venue and subsequently The Foundation nightclub. Once it closed, this unique building fell into disrepair, until we acquired it and decided to make a fantastic office development.

“Lugano redeveloped the entire building, retaining the features and elements that make such a remarkable, eye-catching building. We welcomed our first major tenant, Quantum DX – an innovative spin-out from Newcastle University - which had out-grown premesis at the Centre for Life. We worked with the company to provide bespoke offices and 9 purpose-built state of the art research laboratories. The company has since expanded further and we are proud to have been part of their success and growth. It’s a brilliant North East success story and that’s important to us – that what we take on creates a legacy.”

FIVE minutes with..Richard Robson, chairman, Lugano Property Group

FAVOURITE North-East building and why?

The Millenium Bridge - a beautiful structure and it offers the iconic view of the Tyne bridges to the west.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid?

After leaving university I had a summer job selling sandwiches around offices in Newcastle. I think I got about £50 a week plus the added bonus of being allowed to eat anything I didn’t sell! The novelty wore off pretty quickly!

What is the worst job you've had?

I had a summer job when I was a student in Oxford renovating student houses – I always seemed to end up with the task of wallpapering the ceilings – suffice to say more ended up on me than on the ceiling.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?

Something from Thailand – I love cooking and all Thai food.

What would your superpower be?

The ability to wallpaper ceilings.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party? 

Sir David Attenborough; Ross Noble; Meryl Streep and Dawn French.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much?

My new bicycle – used to commute to work a few days a week when the weather’s fine, but the main reason I bought it was because I liked the colour. It cost about £700.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?

I’m not a huge fan of social media and so don’t follow anyone. From what I’ve read in the press of some of Donald Trump’s ‘tweets’; I think that’s a good call.

Favourite book?

Currently Robert Webb’s ‘How not to be a boy’ – autobiographical and brings back memories of my own childhood, but ask me again in a week or so and it will be something else.

When did you last cry?

See above – there is a chapter where the author describes losing his mum to cancer as a teenager– I did too when I was 17 and he captures the emotions perfectly.

What is your greatest achievement?

I’m hugely accident prone, so reaching 54 (relatively) unscathed other than various fractures, breaks and bits of metal holding my arm and shoulder together, is quite an achievement.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given?

Never give up.

Favourite animal?

Tricky one this as I stared my career as a biologist and so am fond of most animals. I was lucky enough to visit an elephant sanctuary last year and that was pretty special.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? 

None that I’m aware of, but I had a photo of a dinner with Prince Charles I attended a few months ago, if that counts?

What was the last band you saw live?

Not technically a ‘band’ but I saw Sarah Millican live a few weeks ago and she was fantastic.

Describe your perfect night in?

To start a walk along the beach at dusk with my wife, then some nice food and a few glasses of red wine while watching ‘The Crown’.

In another life I would be? 

A ski instructor – I used to help run the University ski cub and have been addicted ever since (also refer to ‘greatest achievement’ answer earlier!)

Who would play you in a film of your life?

I get regularly teased that I look, like Nigel Havers, which is annoying as he’s a lot older than I am.

What irritates you?

Lack of consideration for others.

What's your secret talent?

I can cook and ski, but ideally not at the same time.