HOUNSLOW Council's new chief executive reckons her experience could be pivotal in securing the long-awaited regeneration of Hounslow and Brentford town centres.
Mary Harpley, who took the reins from temporary boss Michael Frater in January, spent four years as director of the West Midlands Regional Development Agency (RDA).
During that time she helped secure investment in the area and bring long-derelict buildings back into use, feats she hopes to repeat in her new role. As head of Cherwell District Council, in Oxfordshire, from 2006-2011, she also oversaw the redevelopment of Bicester town centre at a time when new projects were almost unheard of across the country.
Hounslow Council last week appointed architects BDP to draw up a new 'master plan' for the regeneration of Hounslow town centre, which Ms Harpley said was one of her top priorities.
"This appointment is a key step towards the regeneration of Hounslow town centre but there's a long road between putting together a plan and seeing the town centre rebuilt because you have to attract new investors," she told the Chronicle. "We're all acutely aware of how long it (the regeneration) appears to have taken and also how important it is to the residents of Hounslow and the rest of the borough.
"I have a background and a lot of experience in attracting inward investment, especially with the RDA, and that's one of the things I hope to bring to this role."
Ms Harpley joins the council at a time when it has just agreed £18 million of savings for 2011/12 and must slash spending by a a further £42m over the following three years - more than a quarter of its budget in total.
But the 47-year-old mother-of-three, who began her career in publishing, insists she is excited rather than daunted by the challenges ahead.
"With the huge cuts to settlements by central government, many people say this is the most difficult time we've ever had in local government," she said. "But that didn't make me think 'should I be getting out', it made me think 'I've done a lot in my previous job and I want to do more now."
Hounslow is very different to Cherwell. It has a population of about 220,000, compared to just 135,000, and as a borough council is responsible for more areas of public spending, such as education and housing.
Mrs Harpley believes her biggest challenges include ensuring the council has enough primary school places to cope with rising birth rates, improving recycling and boosting the health of the local population.
Her most immediate challenge, though, will be helping to balance the books. Although the 2011/12 budget was approved in principle earlier this month, consultation is ongoing about a handful of controversial proposals - including the closure of day centres in Bedfont and Chiswick.
Opponents claim the timing means the closures are effectively a 'done deal', with no other proposals to make the necessary savings.
However, Mrs Harpley insisted this was not the case. She said officers were continuing to identify possible savings for the future and these could be brought forward if deemed necessary.
She said the next tranche of cuts was likely to involve more complex decisions, which could not be made in the time available for this budget.
These include the possible sale of council-owned buildings, sharing more services with neighbouring councils and handing responsibility for council facilities and services such as community halls to local organisations.
"There are a lot of things councils have routinely done by themselves or in a certain way. We need to ask how we can do things differently to save money," said Mrs Harpley.
"My job is to help minimise the impact, but over four years we're being asked to reduce our budget by 26 per cent. Anybody who has to do that, whatever the situation, knows there will inevitably be some impact."