THE new leader of City of York Council today signalled the dawn of a new political era.

And he revealed exclusively to the Evening Press the launch of his first initiative - aimed at cleaning up the city.

Coun Steve Galloway, who was first elected as a councillor 30 years ago, said he would be concentrating resources into a "City Pride" campaign.

This involves "improving the quality of local neighbourhoods" by concentrating on cleanliness, recycling and vandalism.

He also vowed to clean up the city's "totally unacceptable" public toilets.

"We want people to start feeling ownership of their local neighbourhoods again," he said.

"We want them to demand good quality local services."

Coun Galloway said his group's massive 49 per cent share of the vote was down to people wanting a change after being under Labour for so long. But he also accepted anti-war feeling was a factor.

He expressed sympathy for defeated Labour leader Dave Merrett.

"I feel for Dave Merrett in many ways. He was never going to stem the feeling of public disquiet."

Coun Galloway said he was "not surprised" the Conservative Party's seats had been wiped out.

"It was an extraordinarily poor political decision for them to side with Labour - a major error," he said.

Coun Merrett warned the Liberal Democrats that his party would be tenacious in opposition and would "provide an alternative to a party that tries to be all things to all people".

He also said the party had been affected by external events, and particularly the war in Iraq.

He said: "There are a number of traditional Labour voters with strong conscientious objections to the war in Iraq and there are others who weren't convinced that there weren't other avenues to resolve the issues without going to war."

Reacting to last night's results, York's Labour MP Hugh Bayley said: "The Liberal Democrats have a hard act to follow.

"York's Labour council provided good services with a lower council tax than any Liberal Democrat council in Yorkshire.

"I regret the loss of some first-rate Labour councillors, some through retirement, others at the election. We all learn lessons from defeat.

"I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on their victory. I love York and will work with them if they put the city's interests first, but not if they descend to party political wrangling."

Updated: 15:22 Friday, May 02, 2003