A NEW leader has been appointed for an East Lancs Liberal Democrat group after several party defections.

Cllr Simon O’Rourke is the new Lib-Dem group leader at the Ribble Valley, with Cllr Mary Robinson in the deputy role.

It comes after former Lib-Dem councillors Stewart Fletcher, Mark French and Ryan Corney left to form the Progressive Liberals.

The Lib-Dem group now has five borough councillors. The Progressive Liberal say they want to work with Labour and Green councillors.

Cllr O’Rourke said: “We’re looking forward to getting back to business, focusing on what’s best for the Ribble Valley. That’s what we’ve been doing for years.  We’ll be getting out in the New Year, putting out leaflets and getting active again.

“Our Lib-Dem group still has plenty of experienced, well-connected councillors. We’re confident in our own judgement and our motives. Mary Robinson, for example, is highly-respected and well-capable."

And he is adamant relations between political rivals will remain cordial.

He added: “We don’t plan to work against Stewart Fletcher or anybody else at the council. As Lib-Dems, we’ll make our minds up independently on issues as they arise, rather than make coalitions, deals or promises on how we vote or who we support."

Cllr O'Rourke dismissed speculation regarding the Lib-Dems going into a coalition with the Conservatives, saying: "I personally have never felt comfortable with coalitions with anybody. I think that’s why things broke-down with Stewart, Mark and Ryan. They want to form a closer alliance with Labour and the Greens.

“But this is local politics not parliament. Our business is working for the people of Clitheroe and the Ribble Valley. If Conservatives here have a good idea, we may support it. If they have a bad idea, we may oppose it.

Cllr Fletcher, Progressive Liberals leader, remains the official leader of the opposition at Ribble Valley Council. Labour’s Lee Jameson could, in theory, take the role because Labour is now the biggest opposition group.

But Cllr Fletcher has years of borough council experience, which is seen as valuable to both the Progressive Liberals and Labour.

Longridge voters elected Labour councillors in May.  Regarding Longridge issues, Cllr O’Rourke said: “Longridge in the past had different political representation and perhaps got knocked a bit? I think Longridge’s profile has risen at Ribble Valley Council with questions being asked.

“Stewart Fletcher asked a Longridge question recently and Labour’s Lee Jameson will be raising more Longridge issues, no doubt.  These are legitimate topics. People in Longridge pay their council tax and are in the Ribble Valley. I have nothing against these questions or these councillors’ rights to debate issues.

“Same with the Greens. They have made some important contributions already this year. Cllr Malcolm Peplow’s work around the Martholme Viaduct and greenway route was supported by all parties and councillors.”