JUST a one or two wards changing hands between the three main parties in May 3 will decide who runs Pendle Council.

This year's local polls in the ever bitterly-contested borough are as knife-edge as ever.

With 16 of the 20 wards up for election between 42 candidates, predicting who will come out on top is as much a matter for fortune-tellers as political analysts.

One ward will have a new councillor with a new party allegiance after the decision of the British National Party's Brian Parker to retire in Marsden in Nelson.

Labour's Laura Blackburn and Conservative Neil McGowan are battling fiercely in a straight fight for his 300 plus votes in a seat won by Tory Tommy Cooney last year.

Other key battles in marginal wards include Reedley, Horsefield and Coates as the traditional insults fly between the parties

The Conservatives have a new leader in arch-Brexiteer Paul White after the unexpected resignation of political veteran Joe Cooney in March and a glossy new manifesto to boost schools and jobs in the borough.

But with Earby's Rosemary Carroll leaving the party of claims of racist social media posts and the decision by influential Boulsworth representative Sarah Cockburn-Price not to stand again, his drive to regain power is dogged by claims of internal splits.

Lyle Davey, the UK's youngest councillor when elected in Coates ward in Barnoldswick in 2014 is also standing down leaving a fierce three-way fight to succeed him.

But Mr White knows that just one - or preferably two - more councillors will enable him to replace Labour's Mohammed Iqbal as leader of the council.

The current balanced is 23 'official' Conservatives with Cllr Carroll voting with them against the coalition of 15 Labour councillors and nine Liberal Democrats leaving the soon top be ex-councillor Parker or Labour Mayor David Whalley with the casting vote.

Cllr White, whose party fights across the borough while Labour concentrates on Nelson and the LibDems on Colne and further east, is bullish.

He wants to improve Pendle's schools (despite they're being a Lancashire County Council responsibility), bring a university centre to the borough, help create 100 private sector apprenticeships in 100 days and extend the Lomeshaye Industrial Estate .

Ousting some of the Liberal Democrats who have propped up Labour for the last two years, notably Elizabeth Lord in Waterside and David Clegg in Vivary Bridge - would the cherry on the cake.

Their leader, Tony Greaves, wants to consolidate in the East of the Borough and is refusing to fight in Nelson, branding the town's politics 'a cesspit'.

His opponents Cllr Iqbal and Cllr White says he just can't find the candidates but the Pendle peer is returning to his a party's tradition of 'pavement politics'.

Lord Greaves said: "In Pendle local elections are always very local.

"We are fighting on what our councillors have achieved for their wards and the surprising success of our coalition with Labour."

Cllr Iqbal also remarks on his surprise at how well the two year arrangement with the LibDems and his once sworn enemy Waterside's Lord Greaves has gone but can't resist claiming investment in the Oak Mill housing site and new health centre in Colne as Labour achievements.

He said: "Labour are ambitious for Pendle and I am ambitious for our party to achieve overall control but I can dream on."

Lord Greaves has ruled out an return to the pre-2016 arrangement between his party and the Conservatives whose leadership he says he 'cannot trust' preferring working with Labour 'through gritted teeth'.

On May 3 just a few dozen votes could decide whether it is a return to the current Labour/LibDem coalition running Pendle or a new Conservative administration.

One thing is certain - the bitterness and division that has characterised the borough's politics in recent years will not change,