STEVE GALLOWAY is resigning as leader of City of York Council, after five years in charge.

The Liberal Democrat chief, who has been a councillor for 35 years and party leader for the past nine, said he had enjoyed his time in the top job, but it was time to hand over to somebody younger. He is to be replaced as party leader by his former deputy Andrew Waller.

The announcement comes two weeks before the keynote annual council meeting, which could see the Lib Dems lose control of the council for the first time since 2003. The Labour opposition are known to be considering a coup attempt.

Coun Galloway said: "I have enjoyed my five years as leader of the council and greatly appreciate the support that residents and council staff have given to me.

"However, it is a demanding, seven-days-a-week job and I feel that the time is right for someone else to take on the burden."

Coun Galloway, who turns 60 this summer, said he planned to concentrate on issues in his own ward, Westfield, as well as life outside the public arena.

He said the city was suffering from a "crisis of confidence" and a major funding shortfall when he took power in 2003, but now faced a "very exciting" decade.

"History will probably record the last few years as the era when the city made a giant step from a dependence on its historic economy to the new technologies that will sustain us in the future," he said.

"We have seen five years of record low unemployment figures, despite an accelerating switch from traditional manufacturing jobs to those in the emerging knowledge and science industries."

He said recent and imminent developments, such as York College, new schools, the council's planned Hungate headquarters, and the Derwenthorpe and Germany Beck housing schemes also demonstrated the city's economic strength.

Many decisions made by Coun Galloway's council have been unpopular or controversial. The introduction of evening parking charges; the sale of the Barbican centre; and the introduction of fortnightly bin collections are among those that have sparked anger from residents.

York also courted controversy in 2006 when its council tax rise was almost capped, and the Lib Dems have repeatedly argued that York should get more funding from the Government.

But Coun Galloway said residents could now be confident about the future, and cited the York Pride initiative to clean up the city's streets and pavements, and the major reductions in crime rates, as two of the major successes in recent years.

He also identified Royal Ascot at York, in 2005, as a major highlight for him, and said York's response to the south-east Asian tsunami of 2004 had shown the city "at its best".

He said: "Anyone who lifts their eyes up will recognise that York is a remarkable and unique place. I regard myself as lucky and privileged to have been involved in the city as I have."

Coun Waller, who won an internal leadership election, said Coun Galloway had put the city before his party and had worked tirelessly to secure additional resources for York.

He added: "I aim to build upon the work done by Steve for the city".

City of York Council's leader steps down after five turbulent years in office

WHEN Steve Galloway was first elected back in 1973 he was one of just a handful of Liberal councillors in York.

He won in Westfield ward, ousting the then Lord Mayor, and although council boundaries have shifted over the years, he has represented that area ever since.

"In 1973 there had not been any Liberals on the council for four years, and no sizeable group since before the war," he said. "Frankly, getting onto the council became pretty difficult - I do not think being council leader crossed my mind at that point."

Coun Galloway also stood for Parliament three times in the 1970s, but after losing out to Vince Cable as York candidate for the 1987 General Election, he concentrated on local politics.

He was leader of the Liberals in the 1980s, and became Liberal Democrat leader in 1999.

May Day 2003 then saw a seismic shift in York's political landscape, as the Lib Dems swept to power, winning 29 of the city's 47 seats and ending two decades of Labour rule.

Led by Coun Galloway, the Lib Dems were elected on a platform of change - promising to clean up the city's streets; step up anti-crime partnerships; upgrade the northern ring-road; and work towards' installing rail stations at Haxby and Strensall, and later York Hospital, York Business Park, Copmanthorpe and Askham Bar.

Controversy came quickly though, with the introduction of evening parking charges and, later, disputes over the sale of the Barbican; the 2005 fireworks display; and the introduction of fortnightly bin collections, amongst others.

There were successes, such as Royal Ascot; reduced crime rates; increased recycling and York Pride, while York also fought a prolonged battle for a larger share of national money.

When the city returned to the polls in May 2007, the Lib Dems lost almost a third of their seats, and - with them - overall control of the council. Labour regained three seats and the Tories went from zero to seven. Although the Lib Dems regained one seat in a by-election, the council remains hung.

After lengthy negotiations between the various parties, Coun Galloway stayed on as leader, heading up a minority Lib Dem administration.

He says he told his group then that he would stay as leader for 12 more months, to help smooth the transition to a hung council and to help oversee the arrival of a new chief executive.

Outside the council, Coun Galloway was a business planning manager, but he retired from his job with BT ten years ago, to become a full-time councillor. He was Lord Mayor in 1983/84 and represents Westfield with his wife, Sue.

Fight for power

IT'S round two in the fight for control of York, as the city prepares for its second year with a hung council.

After last year's elections, the four parties engaged in lengthy negotiations, before the Lib Dems eventually formed a minority administration for 2007/08.

Now, it's back to the negotiating table, as the parties thrash out who should take charge in 2008/09. No party appears keen on a formal coalition, which leaves two options.

Either the Lib Dems continue with a minority for another year, or Labour oust them and form a minority administration of their own. Labour are considering such a move, and will decide within days whether to go for it.

The key date is the annual council meeting on May 22. To be successful, Labour will need the support, on the day, of the two Greens and/or the seven Conservative councillors.

Their most likely route to success appears to be persuading the Greens to side with them, and the Tories to abstain - which would allow new Lord Mayor Brian Watson to use his casting vote to hand power to Labour.