Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups are aiming to take overall control of the hung authority in Ryedale, which currently has 11 Tories, six Independents, five Liberal Democrats and one Labour.

Boundary changes mean the number of seats on the council has gone up from 23 to 30.

The Tories are fielding 23 candidates, the Liberal Democrats 16, Labour eight, Liberal two, and there are eight Independents.

Conservative leader Keith Knaggs claims his party is the only one that can realistically take overall council control.

Coun Knaggs said: "We hope for this, not to exercise control in a heavy-handed way, but because Ryedale needs an administration committed to protecting the countryside, spending sensibly, putting real impetus into affordable housing and leisure facilities that do not rely totally on the lottery, and giving high priority to crime prevention. The fear of all groups is a low turnout. With almost every ward affected by boundary changes, and seven extra seats, some surprise results are likely."

Helen Schroeder, joint acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "Of course we are aiming to take control, any political party has that aim when going into an election if it has sufficient candidates to do so."

Coun Schroeder said voters in Ryedale appreciated the work the current coalition council had done to ensure a nil council tax rise for the district council precept, though she admitted this had been dampened by big county council and police precept hikes. She said: "People appreciate Liberal Democrat policies in terms of supporting community initiatives. One such initiative we would hope to get off the ground is a sports hall in Malton if we had sufficient political strength to do that."

The one Labour councillor in Ryedale, Gary Hobbs, said his party would push to stop Ryedale's talent drain if it increased its seat share.

"More and more young people are leaving the area, the population is getting steadily older," he said.

Coun Hobbs also said Labour would push for better services across the region and a more equal spread of resources for Ryedale's market towns.

He added: "Obviously we are hoping to increase the number of Labour councillors. We have identified one or two seats where we are hoping to make gains."

Among the eight Independent candidates is Alan Farnaby, who has led the council and is chairman of the influential policy and resources committee.

Coun Farnaby, who is defending his Sheriff Hutton seat, has spoken of his strong belief in keeping party politics out of local-level politics. He has called for fairer local taxation and help for agriculture, tourism, and local transport.

The two Liberal candidates, John Clark and Nelly Trevelyan, are standing in the Cropton and Dales wards.

The party has called for more measures to tackle flooding, improved public transport, Ryedale to be declared a GM-free zone, and increased council tax on second homes.

Updated: 09:02 Tuesday, April 29, 2003