Honour for Baroness Hollis

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Civic leaders in Norwich have bestowed their highest honour on the city's first woman council chief.Baroness Hollis was awarded the honorary Freedom of the City in a special ceremony in the City Hall council chamber.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Civic leaders in Norwich have bestowed their highest honour on the city's first woman council chief.

Baroness Hollis was awarded the honorary Freedom of the City in a special ceremony in the City Hall council chamber.

Among the guests were the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James; city MPs Charles Clarke and Ian Gibson and former Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, Sir Timothy Colman.


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During a speech quoting the writer JB Priestley, Nye Bevan and Sir William Beveridge, the Labour peer spoke warmly about her political mentor, the late Sir Arthur South, and the council colleagues with whom she worked, as well as her pride in the city, its civic traditions and its future.

She spoke of the huge support from family and friends during her work as a city councillor, a UEA history lecturer and later dean, and in the House of Lords as Baroness Hollis of Heigham, the council ward she represented.

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A founder member of Radio Broadland, she arrived in the city in 1967 and soon become active in Labour Party politics. She recalled a council career which spanned more than two decades and saw her take a leading role in the building of 15,000 council houses, the redevelopments of King Street, Colegate, Friars Quay and the building of Castle Mall.

“I learnt how sometimes only the city council would take risks. We lent tens of millions in mortgages to people red-lined and refused by the building societies. When we bought Bowthorpe, builders refused to build private homes - too risky out there - so the city did, disguised as a private company.

“In King Street we permitted too much and conserved too little,” she added. “Now we are more aware that economic development must be more sustainable, that growth must be green growth.

“No one much in the city believed Castle Mall would happen, but the council held fast and revitalised our city centre,” she said.

“There was a huge pride in our willingness to lead and innovate. And a self confidence that came from centuries of self government.”

“I can think of no greater honour than to receive the Freedom of the City,” she said. “The Freedom is for me the more special because 100 years ago, in November 1907, women won the right to be elected to county boroughs and county councils like Norwich.

Council leader Steve Morphew, who proposed the honour at the meeting, said Baroness Hollis had left a serious legacy which would serve the city well in the future and he also thanked her for her help in the city's bid to become a unitary council.

“Her contribution over the past year alone is worth the highest position the city can offer,” he said.

Lib Dem councillor Felicity Hartley said she first realised the peer was a future mover and shaker when they both worked at the UEA, and she said she was always impressed with her ability to succeed, both at home and work. “One of my colleagues once described you to me as Norwich's 'Iron Lady',” she added. “But I would prefer to go for steel - that's equally tough, but it's a lot more elegant.”

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