NEWPORT council leader Sir Harry Jones is to be the first person offered the Freedom of the City.

Sir Harry Jones has led the council since 1987 and the Welsh Local Govern-ment Association (WLGA) since it was formed in 1996.

He was knighted in 2000 in recognition of his services to local and national government, following his award of CBE in 1995.

Now Sir Harry is in line for the civic honour, the first time it has been offered since city status was won in 2000.

The award is to be offered in recognition of Sir Harry's contribution to Newport from helping to win city status to his role in securing major projects like the Southern Distributor Road and the Riverfront arts centre.

Leader of the opposition, William Graham, said the award was a fitting way to recognise Sir Harry's achievements.

Councillor Graham, who is also an Assembly Member for South Wales East, said: "We in opposition do recognise that Sir Harry has done a lot for Newport and that this is an appropriate way to recognise his contribution."

Newport East Assembly Member John Griffiths said Sir Harry had helped transform Newport's image in recent years.

Deputy health minister Mr Griffiths said: "Sir Harry has done a great deal for Newport and under his leadership it has advanced leaps and bounds culturally, economically and socially.

"From job creation to the velodrome, the arts centre, street sculpture and the Southern Distributor Road, Sir Harry has been a driving force for positive change."

Mr Griffiths also said that Sir Harry's role as head of the WLGA had helped put the city on the map and had raised its profile across the UK.

Commenting on persistent rumours that Sir Harry is to step down in June, Mr Griffiths said: "Sir Harry has a huge wealth of experience."

Newport chief executive Chris Freegard said he was unable to "confirm or deny" the news.