THE chief executive of the company charged with driving Swindon’s regeneration has resigned and left the role with immediate effect.

Karen Walker, 50, who only joined Forward Swindon in July on a salary of £120,000, said she was resigning for ‘personal reasons’.

She announced her decision at a board meeting this week and staff at Forward Swindon were only told about her departure yesterday morning.

It comes less than a fortnight after the company’s director of marketing, Carol Heneghan, quit to move to a construction company in Cheltenham.

Forward Swindon is the company charged with delivering the town’s regeneration, inward investment and economic and cultural development.

Ms Walker said: “My decision to resign has been taken for purely personal reasons.

“It is clear to me that Swindon has huge potential and a bright future. Forward Swindon Limited has a crucial role in joining up all the committed individuals and organisations in the borough to enable that potential to be fulfilled. I wish all involved every success.”

The chief executive position will be filled on an interim basis for six months by Ian Piper, who is currently director of development and regeneration at the South West of England Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) and was already on the board of Forward Swindon.

He will be working four days a week at Forward Swindon.

Coun Garry Perkins, deputy leader of Swindon Council, whose brief includes regeneration, said: “It was essential to move quickly and fill the chief executive position.

“It is obviously disappointing to see Karen go but we accept and respect her decision.

“It is important that we do not lose momentum and I am very pleased that Ian Piper, who has an excellent track record in this field and knows Swindon well, has agreed to take on the role until we can appoint someone on a permanent basis.”

He said Ms Walker had recently completed a regeneration plan for the town, which was presented to the council this week and added that she had not been paid the £15,000 annual bonus that was part of the pay package when she joined.

“She produced the regeneration plan exceptionally quickly and very efficiently. In a really short time she accomplished an awful lot,” he said.

Forward Swindon is wholly owned by the council and was formed in April 2010 to replace the New Swindon Company, which was a partnership between the council, the SWRDA and the Homes and Communities Agency.

THE announcement that Karen Walker has left the helm of Forward Swindon after less than three months in the job has been met with dismay by politicians.

In September last year, Ms Walker took redundancy from West Bromwich regeneration agency, RegenCo, six months before the company was wound up.

Ms Walker, who was chief executive at RegenCo, accepted a redundancy package and left after the company’s funding was pulled and the council decided to look at other way to fund regeneration in the area.

In July she began as chief executive of Forward Swindon.

But her time in Swindon was not without its hiccups. Despite giving interviews to national papers like the Financial Times, she declined to speak to local people through the Advertiser.

The Adver understands that Ms Walker, who has been renovating her home in Minchinhampton, near Stroud, does not have another job lined up to go to.

The Adver also understands that Ms Walker was keen to devise an entirely new scheme for the regeneration of Swindon but politicians and business leaders had told her that they needed to have a scheme in place as soon as possible so that they could be first to benefit when the economy turns around.

Justin Tomlinson, Conservative MP for North Swindon, said: “There was understandable impatience both within the business community and from local residents who wanted to make sure that we were first to benefit from the upturn in the economy.”

Coun Dave Wood, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, said: “I am disappointed that, with such high hopes, she had to leave after less than three months.

“Finding the right replacement to deliver for Swindon will be essential, our town’s regeneration will hang on that decision.”

Labour group leader Coun Derique Montaut added: “I am disappointed that Karen Walker has decided to resign from her post as chief executive of Forward Swindon.

“I sincerely hope that her resignation has nothing to do with the council’s failing regeneration policy.

“Her resignation is unfortunately another setback in Swindon’s desperately needed regeneration.”

However he welcomed the quick appointment of Ian Piper as temporary chief executive.

He said: “I sincerely hope that that Ian can deal with Swindon’s current regeneration woes and am looking forward to working with him in the future.”