TRIBUTES have been paid to a former steelworker who became a North-East council leader following his death at the age of 85.

George Gill, a Gateshead councillor for 30 years, was also leader of Gateshead Council and chairman of the Northumbria Police Authority for 17 years.

Mr Gill began his working life as a colliery electrician at Chopwell Colliery.

He moved to the old Consett Iron Company which later became the British Steel Company.

As a young engineer from Consett steelworks, he was chosen to represent Chopwell and Rowlands Gill on the newly formed Gateshead Council in 1974.

He became an invaluable member of the Gateshead Labour front bench under the leader at the time, Councillor Bill Collins, who first helped raise Gateshead’s profile through projects such as the development of Gateshead International Stadium.

After serving as deputy leader for a year after Bill Collin’s retirement, Mr Gill then went on to become leader of the council, in 1986.

The Metrocentre, Gateshead Garden Festival of 1990, the Angel of the North, the transformation of Gateshead Quays into a major cultural centre, with its three landmark constructions, Gateshead Millennium Bridge, BALTIC, and Sage Gateshead, all came under Mr Gill’s watch.

For the man himself, the crowning moment of almost 30 years of public service was the completion and royal opening of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

As an engineer he appreciated the simplicity of the design as well as the challenges which needed to be overcome to make it a reality.

“The bridge is one of my most proudest moments and it was most certainly worth it,” he said at the time.

In 1995 he was made a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List and that same year became Deputy Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear.

In May 2002 he became an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Gateshead and retired from the council and from political life that same year.

Current leader Councillor Martin Gannon said: “Those of us who worked with George knew him as a man of great ability and a strong leader. Under his leadership, Gateshead Council became an excellent performing council. He made things happen.”