TRIBUTES have been paid to a former mayor and magistrate, who is standing down as a Southend councillor after more than 20 years.

Gwen Horrigan, 81, who was appointed an MBE by the Queen for her community work in 2005, is standing down as Conservative councillor for West Leigh due to long-term ill health.

A by-election for her seat will be held by February 4.

Council leader Nigel Holdcroft said: “Gwen has been a hard-working, popular and effective member of the council for many years and will be greatly missed by residents and members alike.

“Her driving motivation has always been the wellbeing of the town and its residents and she will be greatly missed.

“It is very sad that as a result of her deteriorating health she has been unable to complete her final term and as a council we have not been able to publicly express to her our appreciation of her massive contribution.”

Mrs Horrigan, who was expected to retire in May 2015, has been unable to attend council meetings since May due to her ill health. Council rules state councillors must attend meetings at least every six months.

The Conservative, who was first elected in 1992, served as mayor in 2008/09.

She was responsible for housing for ten years from 1997, and represented Southend on various housing panels. She also served on the Southend Residents and Tenants Forum and was involved with homelessness charity, Harp.

Martin Terry, spokesman for the Indpendent group, said: “Gwen’s many years of contribution to Southend as a councillor and her sense of civic duty, including her mayoral year, cannot be underestimated, particularly with regard to housing issues, Armed Forces and the old crime prevention panel in Leigh.”

Lib Dem leader Graham Longley said: “I’m sure we will all want to send her thanks for her dedicated work and now she can focus on her health and well-being.”

Labour leader Ian Gilbert said: “Despite being of different parties she had many words of encouragement when I was first elected, and she is greatly respected by people on all sides of the chamber.”

The council’s chief executive Rob Tinlin added: “I am sure members from all groups will want to acknowledge Gwen’s long and loyal service to both the council and the borough over many years.”

The vacancywill be officially declared at a full council meeting on Thursday, December 12, and the by-election will be held within 35 working days.