SUSPENDED Liberal Democrats Keith Aspden and Nigel Ayre are making a dramatic return to City of York Council’s executive - as Tory Ian Gillies becomes the new council leader.

The Lib Dem pair have been re-appointed under a new deal struck between the authority’s Lib Dem and Conservative coalition partners, six months after they were suspended by former council leader David Carr.

A Lib Dem spokesman claimed tonight that their suspensions in advance of any standards process were ‘unjust, unwarranted and unprecedented.'

He added: “The Liberal Democrats believe that it is important that due process is followed and we hope that this will be resolved quickly.”

Cllr Aspden will be group leader and executive member for economic development and community engagement once again, while Cllr Ayre will again be executive member for culture, leisure and tourism.

Cllr Aspden, who was deputy council leader until his suspension, said that since last September, he had taken on new commitments including a Master’s degree, which meant he did not have the time to return to that role, which will be held by Cllr Andrew Waller.

"This will ensure that I can continue to work hard in my council responsibilities, including as the local councillor for Fulford and Heslington.”

Cllr Ayre said the coming months would be crucial for the delivery of major projects. 

“My enthusiasm and commitment to these has never waned and I look forward to playing my part in delivering genuine positive change for the residents of York," he said.

“We must make sure that we continue to make progress on major projects, particularly the Community Stadium, and our strong commitment to protecting the city’s libraries.”

 Cllr Carol Runciman will be the fourth Lib Dem member, while Cllrs Ann Reid and Keith Orrell have stepped down from their interim executive positions.

 Cllr Gillies, who recently replaced Cllr Carr as Tory group chairman, was elected council leader at a brief extraordinary council meeting  tonight by 24 votes to 17, with one abstention and several councillors unable to attend.

Those voting for him included Cllr Carr, who quit the Conservative group and party to become an Independent last month when he resigned as leader, and speaking out about  'betrayal' from some members of the party.

Cllr Gillies told The Press he would appoint the three Conservative members of the executive shortly, probably over the weekend, after having time to reflect.

He said he was taking over as leader at a time when a series of huge developments were reaching a crucial stage, including the community stadium project at Monks Cross and the York Central redevelopment scheme behind the railway station, and he appealed for all councillors to work together to ensure these went ahead. 

"This is a new beginning," he said.   “I believe that the shake-up within our group has given us the opportunity to refresh our efforts to work as hard as we can to deliver the quality of council that residents deserve. 

"Our joint administration was set up to focus on frontline services and to deliver on key areas for York such as York Central and Castle Piccadilly, and following through on the policies and processes we agreed in 2015, which are as important now as ever.”

Labour group leader Janet Looker said she was 'disappointed' by the return of Cllrs Ayre and Aspden to the executive.

She said she believed they should have remained suspended until an investigation had been completed.