LOCAL Democracy reporter Bill Jacobs looks at whether Labour or the Liberal Democrats can eat into the Tory stronghold of Ribble Valley Council when the borough goes to the polls with every seat up for election on May 4.

The main points of interest in the current local election campaign in the overwhelmingly Conservative borough of Ribble Valley is whether Labour can gain a toehold on the council and if the Liberal Democrats can boost their 10 councillors.

No-one is expecting the Tories to lose control.

At the last election in 2019 they won 28 out of the 40 seats as they put the short-lived 2018 split when five of their councillors quit to form a breakaway Democratic Conservative group in protest at the actions of then borough leader Ken Hind behind them.

They lost two seats - the ousted Mr Hind and his wife Sue.

The LibDems got 10 councillors elected - a gain of six with five in Clitheroe - with two independents also being chosen.

Once again all seats on the council are up for grabs in a four-yearly 'all out' election unlike the one third of seats in other East Lancashire councils.

In all there are 97 candidates - the Conservatives are fielding 35, Labour 32, the Liberal Democrats 14 and the Green Party three.

There are 13 independent hopefuls.

In April 2021, two Tories went Independent - Alston and Hothersall ward's Jim Rogerson and Salthill's Ian Brown - cutting the number of Conservative councillors to 26 and increasing the number of non-aligned political representatives to four.

Already the Conservatives have secured three councillors as the wards of Alston and Hothersall (with two seats), Bowland and Clayton-le-Dale Salesbury are uncontested, therefore Derek Brocklehurst, Rosemary Elms and Louise Edge respectively have already been automatically elected.

Cllr Rogerson claims the second seat in Alston and Hothersall also without a contest.

His Independent colleague Cllr Brown will have to fight for his future in his two seat Clitheroe ward against just one Conservative rival Kristian Torgerson and two Labour and two LibDem candidates.

The last remaining councillor from the short-lived breakaway Democratic Conservative group Robert Thompson is not standing in his former Wiswell and Barrow ward but his fellow Independent Cllr David Birtwhistle is seeking to stay on the council.

The two-councillor ward sees two Conservative candidates, two Labour hopefuls and another Independent Lee Street on the ballot paper.

With 26 Conservative councillors, 10 Liberal Democrats and four Independents representing the rural borough when the council election was called, Tory leader Stephen Atkinson expects to keep the party's strong control of the borough if not increase it.

He is optimistic and says he is standing on a 'proud record' of low council tax and good services including weekly bin collections.

But Labour is hopeful of getting a foothold back on the council for the first time since its last remaining councillor Maureen Fenton lost Clitheroe's Low Moor and Edisford ward in 2019.

It is targeting Longridge's Dilworth and Derby and Thornley wards, Ribchester and Clitheroe's Primrose ward.

It also has hopes of recapturing Low Moor and Edisford.

LibDem leader Cllr Stewart Fletcher says his party is concentrating its campaign on reviving Clitheroe 'the jewel of the Ribble Valley'.

Labour election organiser David Hinder said: "We are working very hard. We are hopeful of regaining a foothold on the council.

"We making a big push in Longridge, Ribchester and Primrose ward in Clitheroe."

The party is highlighting parking problems, improving recycling, tackling flooding hotspots, planning, the environment, unbalanced housing growth, and boosting the borough's town centres.

Cllr Atkinson said: "We are standing on our record.

"This is the lowest council tax in Lancashire and the highest level of services which includes being the only council in the county to provide weekly bin collections and no charges for green waste.

"Over the last four years the Office for National Statistics has rated Ribble Valley as the happiest place to live in England in 2019 and the healthiest place to live in England in 2022.

"We are the most prosperous district in Lancashire and it is important that we keep our independence to keep delivering for our residents.

"We are proud of our record and are optimistic about making gains in these elections."

Cllr Fletcher said: "We are only putting up in 14 candidates because we don't believe in paper ones. These are wards where we think we can win.

"Clitheroe is our stronghold so we are concentrating on there and nearby Sabden and Chatburn.

"Clitheroe is a beautiful town - the jewel of the Ribble Valley and we think it is being run into the ground. First of all it needs the basics sorting out like roads and signs and then investment in things like the market and the castle grounds.

"We are also concerned about the growth of housing. It is the wrong sort of homes in the wrong places built to the wrong environmental standards."

* There will also be parish elections in Read, Ribchester, Salesbury, Simonstone; the Sawley ward of the Bolton-by-Bowland, Gisburn Forest and Sawley parish; and the five wards in Clitheroe.