TORIES last night announced they were back in charge of Southampton City Council by igniting a heated row when they formally scrapped a controversial gypsy and traveller site proposed for Swaythling.

New Labour leader Richard Williams quickly accused them of leaving the city in "confusion over of key area of policy" while freshly installed Lib Dem sheriff Liz Mizon said that a "emotional" and "expensive" race would have to start to find an alternative to Monks Brook.

Conservatives had opposed the site and pledged to ditch the proposal during an election campaign that saw them sweep back to power with their first majority in 24 years after they were ousted in February by a Labour and Lib Dem budget pact.

Deputy leader Royston Smith said: "We will look at alternatives where practical."

He later added: "There is no law that says we have to have one. We don't think the case has been met." Tories drew further criticism when they ditched a £90,000 Lab Lib proposed campaign to encourage residents to take up be Government paid benefits.

Tories claimed it would serve "no clear purpose" or guarantee savings. Labour called the decision "spiteful" and said it made "no economic sense."

Conservatives confirmed veteran councillor Alec Samuels, 78, as council leader and he appointed an eight man Cabinet.

The annual council meeting began with a warning from new Tory chairman Brian Parnell that he would operate a football style card system to keep unruly councillors in check. He was earlier elected as the city's 786th mayor at a ceremony at the Guildhall where he was praised for his "charm and good humour". It is the second time he has held the job - the last time, as a compromise candidate - was when Southampton Football Club made The FA cup final in 2003.

He joked: "I congratulate Portsmouth for taking our place this year."

Councillors thanked the "exceptional" outgoing mayor, Labour councillor Stephen Barnes-Andrews, who attended 450 engagements in the previous year while holding down job as manager of a Waitrose supermarket in the city. For the first time since 1971 councillors appointed an Honorary Recorder - the city's "firm but fair" crown court judge Derwin Hope QC.

The founder of the city' boat show Norman Kemish and lollipop lady Anne Newell received the City of Southampton Award while the city's territorial army unit was given the honorary Freedom of the City.

Proposing the volunteer soldiers for their service to the country and local community Cllr Smith, a former RAF man, said the city owned them a debt of gratitude that could not be repaid.

In Winchester the city's mayoral chains of office were handed over to Mike Read.