THREE councillors who served as elected community representatives for a total of 125 years have been awarded the highest honours the borough can bestow.

Applause filled a packed Darlington Borough Council chamber as its leader Bill Dixon was made an honorary freeman and former Opposition leader Tony Richmond and leading councillor David Lyonette were made aldermen for their “eminent service” to the borough during their 40, 42 and 43 years respectively as members.

It is the first time since John Williams and Alisdair MacConachie were made freemen in 2011 that the honour has been awarded, and will enable Mr Dixon to play a part in civic and ceremonial events.

The ceremony saw councillors drop political comments and herald the work and achievements of leading members of rival parties.

Proposing Mr Dixon for the honour, Councillor Stephen Harker said his predecessor as Labour group leader had been “the driving force behind Tees Valley Combined Authority”, and had helped lead the borough’s divorce from Durham County Council.

He also credited Mr Dixon with preventing Bank Top Station from being sidelined and maintaining the town’s social housing stock.

He said: “At heart he is always a very serious politician who has always wanted the best for Darlington. And in my opinion that is what he has achieved over 40 years.”

Mr Dixon said: “There were times when difficult decisions had to be made and I know at times it probably looked like the council was being arrogant and making decisions we didn’t really care about. That was never the case.

“The people who pay the price for you being a councillor isn’t you. You get all the glory. It’s your partners and families who put up with all of the grief.”

Councillor Andrew Scott described Mr Lyonette as self-effacing and said he had helped “hundreds if not thousands of people” clear up issues in his ward after making himself available to them day or night.

Cllr Scott said Mr Lyonette had been responsible for numerous major schemes, such as the Faverdale and Morton parks, securing thousands of jobs for the town.

He said: “He was a pivotal figure in the economic development of our region.”

Mr Lyonette said authority had been utterly transformed during his time as a councillor and highlighted the importance of collaborative working.

Councillor Charles Johnson said he could “not think of a more worthy recipient” of the award than Mr Richmond, who served as Mayor in 1993 and led the Conservative Group for many years.

The ceremony heard Mayor Councillor Nick Wallis describe Mr Richmond as “a true gentleman” and how the leading Tory had “wielded words like a rapier” during political debate. Councillor Cindy Hughes added Mr Richmond and his Labour councillor wife, Sue, had shown how it was possible to engage in political activism while treating rivals with humility, kindness and respect.

Following the ceremony, Cllr Wallis led a procession to the Dolphin Centre for a reception.