Only one thing is certain in Burnley's knife-edge local elections - the council will have a new leader soon after May 6.

Currently Cllr Mark Townsend leads a minority Labour administration with 22 councillors.

Ranged up against it are eight Liberal Democrats, six Conservatives, six Burnley and Padiham Independent Party councillors, two Greens and one Independent.

With 15 wards up for election and 61 candidates from seven parties standing the campaign is turning out to be a real dogfight.

Labour needs just one gain to form a majority able to implement its priorities of jobs and pandemic recovery but will really struggle to achieve this - and even hold on to the eight wards it is defending.

The Liberal Democrats are confident of regaining the Coal Clough with Deerplay seat which went Labour when retiring councillor Bill Brindle defected and are eyeing an unlikely victory in Daneshouse and Stoneyholme.

The Tories, buoyant after Antony Higginbotham became their first Burnley MP for 109 years, are targeting Gawthorpe ward in Padiham following Labour veteran Andy Tatchell's retirement while the Green Party is hopeful of getting a third councillor in Trinity ward.

The Burnley and Padiham Independent Party is working hard on Rosegrove with Lowerhouse to unseat Labour veteran Marcus Johnstone.

Even if Cllr Townsend achieves his aim of overall control, he will not remain leader as he will stand down to become Mayor at the annual meeting on May 19.

This will provoke an internal group election with current deputy leader Lian Pate, her predecessor John Harbour and environment boss Afrasiab Anwar expected to stand.

Labour took back control of the council in September last year after the uneasy coalition of Burnley and Padiham Independents, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats relying on the tacit support of the Greens collapsed.

Cllr Townsend hopes this 'failed experiment' and the conclusion of Brexit, which he believes accounts for Mr Higginbotham's election, will lead to the party faithful who 'lent their votes' to the Conservatives returning home.

Liberal Democrat leader and former MP Cllr Gordon Birtwistle said: "We are campaigning on the need to crack down on rubbish dumping and fly-tipping and the need to make our streets pleasant. We are also opposed to the building of housing estates on green land as a result of Labour's Local Plan."

Ex-UKIP Conservative boss Alan Hosker, who is defending his Hapton with Park ward, said: "We are asking people to vote Tory on the basis of the work our councillors have done locally. I don't expect any effect from the Conservatives delivering Brexit."

He hopes his party can regain Cliviger with Worsthorne back from his predecessor Andrew Newhouse who last year to defected to the Burnley and Padiham Independents, themselves a breakaway from the LibDems.

Their leader Mark Payne, defending Gannow ward, said: "We hope to keep our two councillors and possibly gain three more. We are campaigning on working to improve local areas for residents without a national agenda."

Green Party leader Cllr Andy Fewings said: "We hope to gain a councillor in Trinity and have hopes in three other wards. I think people are more aware of protecting the environment and the value of our green spaces after Covid."

Cllr Townsend said: "This is going to be a hard fought-election. We would like to make gains but it's going to be difficult."

With a right-wing National Front candidate Steven Smith contesting Cliviger with Worsthorne and Mitchell Cryer of the reformed Social Democrats fighting Whittlefield with Ightenhill this seems an understatement.

And even when the campaigning is over, it looks like it will just be the prelude to weeks of further wrangling to decide who runs Burnley Council - just like in 2019.