TRIBUTES have poured in today to a North-East “visionary” who oversaw a number of iconic developments in the region.

Roger Kelly OBE, formerly chief executive of Gateshead Council, has died following a sudden illness.

Mr Kelly retired from the council in 2012 after more than 20 years with the authority. He managed a number of high-profile developments, including the National Garden Festival, which now boasts the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art, and The Sage, Gateshead.

Following his retirement from the council, he became the driving force behind the relaunch of Ushaw College, at Durham, as a cultural centre and visitor attraction.

Jane Robinson, who succeeded Mr Kelly as Gateshead Council chief executive, said in a social media post today: “A good friend and colleague passed away today. Well before his time. His energy and generosity of spirit and what another friend called his ‘relentless optimism’ was an example to us all. Farewell Roger – you will be much missed.”

Durham Lord Lieutenant Sue Snowdon added: "It was with great sadness that I received the news that Roger had passed away. Roger was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant in April 2016 and brought a huge amount of experience. Roger contributed enormously to our county and its communities, a lovely gentleman who will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Janette and his family.”

Terry Collins, chief executive of Durham County Council, said: "Roger was an incredible person who had dedicated his life to public service. He was a good friend who I found to be inspirational and always positive. He was responsible for many amazing developments whilst at Gateshead and since his retirement he has been working closely with the council and our partners to develop our cultural offer. He will be sadly missed."

Ushaw’s Operations Director Peter Seed said: “Roger brought enthusiasm, knowledge, an invaluable network, and great talent to everything he did, and he will be missed enormously by all of us at Ushaw.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Ushaw is now moving towards a secure and exciting future thanks in great part to Roger’s vision, contacts, hard work and ability to pull things together. He was a man who loved a project and he was like a dog with a bone until he had succeeded.”

Ushaw’s President, Monsignor John Marsland, said: “This is extremely sad news, and we offer our heartfelt sympathy to Roger’s family and friends. There is no doubt that Roger’s influence will live on in the North-East for many years to come, and he will always be remembered with immense gratitude and affection by the Ushaw family. We will be forever in his debt.”

Sunderland entrepreneur Paul Callaghan CBE, the former chairman of One North East, said: “Roger was one of the kindest and most decent of people. A gentle man in every sense. A great loss.”

John Mowbray OBE, Co-Chairman of the North East Cultural Partnership, added: “We have lost a real champion of the region and a lovely person.”

Mr Kelly was Gateshead’s chief executive for eight years and had previously led the authority’s legal services department. He was also chief executive of the Northumbria Police Authority and clerk to the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear.

He studied law at Liverpool University before working as a solicitor for Durham County Council for nine years.

He then worked as company secretary for a mineral and development company for two years and joined Gateshead Council as deputy director of legal services and was promoted to director in 1990.