Tributes pour in for Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson

Paul Watson.
Paul Watson.

Politicians and business leaders have been paying tribute to Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson following his death.

Coun Watson, leader of the authority since 2008, passed away aged 63 following a battle with cancer.

MP for Sunderland Central Julie Elliott.

MP for Sunderland Central Julie Elliott.

Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson dies aged 63 after cancer battle

Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, paid tribute to Coun Watson saying: “My thoughts are with Paul’s family at this very sad time.

“Paul has fought cancer bravely for well over a year but his death still comes as a shock.

“Paul has led the council through a period of enormous regeneration, with many things now coming to fruition before our eyes.

Bridget Phillipson MP.

Bridget Phillipson MP.

"Keel Square, the New Wear Crossing, the redevelopment of the Vaux site and the International Advanced Manufacturing Park are all legacies of his strong leadership of the council.”

Mrs Elliott's Labour colleague Bridget Phillipson, who represents Houghton and Sunderland South, said: “I am very sorry to hear the news that Paul Watson has passed away.

"Paul dedicated himself to making Sunderland and the North East a thriving and vibrant place to live and work.

"Paul led the council during a time of great change and he always worked hard to help build a better local economy and support jobs in our area.

Sharon Hodgson MP.

Sharon Hodgson MP.

"My thoughts at this difficult time are with Paul’s family and friends.”

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said: “It is with deep sadness to learn of the passing of Coun Paul Watson.

"Paul has been a formidable and passionate champion and representative for the City of Sunderland and the North East, both in the region and across the country; his passing will be a great loss to our City.

"My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Coun Watson’s wife Susan and their family during this difficult time.”

Leader of South Tyneside Council, Coun Iain Malcolm.

Leader of South Tyneside Council, Coun Iain Malcolm.

MP for Easington Grahame Morris tweeted: "Sad to learn Coun Paul Watson has passed away.

"Paul was solid and brave and fought hard for his city. He was a premier league leader #RIP."

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck tweeted: "So sorry to hear about the passing of Paul Watson, Leader of Sunderland Council a stalwart of politics in the North East.

"Thoughts with his family."

Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “Paul and I were both elected leaders in 2008 and worked extremely closely together forging a working relationship that saw Sunderland and South Tyneside partner for a City Deal which is delivering a new Manufacturing Park north of Nissan.

"Its future success and the jobs that will be created there will be forever his legacy.

Coun Robert Oliver.

Coun Robert Oliver.

“He had a genuine passion for the region, and his commitment to achieving the best for Wearside is legendary.

"No regional leaders’ meeting was complete without Paul raising new projects and initiatives he wanted to see supported for Sunderland.

“Whether it was as regional chair of the combined authority, a member of the national executive of the Local Government Association or internationally as a member of the EU Committee of Regions, Paul defended our region’s interests and in his no-nonsense way made clear what support he felt the North East required.

“But Paul was also a family man, and I know he enjoyed relaxing with his wife and family - my prayers go to them at this sad time.

“They have lost Paul, our region has lost a champion, and I have lost a dear friend.”

Coun Robert Oliver, Conservative Party leader on Sunderland City Council, said: "The Conservative councillors in Sunderland were saddened to hear that Councillor Paul Watson had passed away after an illness which he bore with great dignity.

"During his time as leader of the council he was heavily involved in many significant projects that are now coming to fruition and will leave Sunderland a better place.

"He was also passionate about empowering councillors in the city and secured important changes to the internal workings of the council such as the area committees.

"Paul was a very influential figure in both regional and national politics and dedicated an enormous amount of his time in speaking up for the city and the North East.

"On a personal level he always put political differences to one side and worked well with the Conservative councillors in an honest and courteous way to the benefit of the city."

Coun Oliver's Conservative colleague Councillor Peter Wood added: "I have known and worked with Paul Watson for the best part of 20 years, since my return to the Council in 1999.

"He was then a very fair chairman of one of the council's planning committees.

"Whilst leader of the Conservative opposition I enjoyed a good working relationship with him, meeting regularly to discuss many matters of importance to the city on a confidential basis.

"We did not always agree but he was a sincere man genuinely concerned with making Sunderland a better place as he saw it.

"My Conservative colleagues at regional meetings regularly acknowledged how hard he fought Sunderland's corner.

"Paul had been seriously ill for some time and his death is not unexpected. It is still very sad.

"Sunderland has lost a doughty advocate and our thoughts and prayers should be with his widow Sue and their family at this time."

Liberal Democrat Coun Stephen O'Brien, who was elected to the council in January, said: "I did not know Coun Watson well personally but I am very sad to hear the news and send my condolences to his family."

Helen Golightly, head of the North East Combined Authority, of which Coun Watson was appointed chairman in 2016, said: "It is with sadness and great thanks that we recognise the huge contribution Councillor Paul Watson made during his years in public service, committed to enhancing the lives of people in Sunderland and across the North East.

"He worked tirelessly, driven by his passion for social and economic betterment for all.

"Paul’s dedication to the residents and businesses in Sunderland and the North East deserves to be celebrated.

"He will be sadly missed and our thoughts remain with his family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time."

Business chiefs have also spoke of the impact Coun Watson had on Sunderland and the wider North East.

North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) chairman Andrew Hodgson said: “Paul was a true advocate for the North East and it is with sadness and thoughts for his family that we pay tribute to the huge contribution he has made to the North East over his years in public service.

“Paul was committed to improving the social and economic wellbeing of the region, working tirelessly with the North East LEP to realise the ambitions within our Strategic Economic Plan and play his part in creating a better future for the people of the North East.

“He believed in creating opportunities for all, be it in accessing education to improve skills or focussing on job creation , particular in advanced manufacturing for the region.

"He wanted people to achieve their personal ambitions in life to support themselves, their families and future generations.

"He had a passion for the North East and the city of Sunderland, continually striving to improve the lives of the residents and conditions for businesses.

“Paul worked tirelessly throughout his illness and will be sadly missed by his fellow board members, the Executive Team at the North East LEP, and me on a personal level.

"Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “Paul Watson was a powerful advocate for Sunderland.

"Working alongside the private sector he has overseen the transformation of the city with the on-going delivery of the Vaux site development, the Fire Station and the City of Culture bid, which we all hope will be successful.

"Over recent years while we have had many robust debates on policy, he would always listen to our members’ views and engage in open debate.

"He also had a substantial impact on the region as chair of the North East Combined Authority.

"I offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.”

Councillor Peter Wood.

Councillor Peter Wood.

Andrew Hodgson, chairman of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Andrew Hodgson, chairman of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham.

North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham.