It will be all change at Lewes District Council on May 1 with almost half the sitting councillors standing down.

The Liberal Democrats have been firmly in control since 1991 but are being pushed hard by the Conservatives in an area where Labour have found themselves squeezed out.

With ward boundary changes reducing the number of seats from 48 to 41, the Conservatives hope to take power for the first time in 12 years.

The district is home to several political hot potatoes, with recent battles over asylum-seekers in Saltdean, the ongoing row over an incinerator in Newhaven and some of the steepest council tax rises in the country.

A total of 22 councillors are leaving the fray, including John Cornwell, Barcombe's councillor for more than 27 years, former Peacehaven mayor Pauline Howard and council chairman Marie Smith.

Conservative leader Keith Moorhouse is stepping down after 30 years and blames the new Cabinet system for the swathe of resignations, saying it has torn the heart out of local government.

He said: "Out of 48 councillors, nine are in the Cabinet. The other 39 have precious little role in the running of the council.

"Six members of the Cabinet are from the ruling party so effectively six councillors run council. That has switched a lot of people off.

"I've seen a lot of ups and downs in local government but this is a sad blow."

Nevertheless, a total of 114 candidates are standing this year, contesting 41 seats in the largely coastal and rural district which is home to about 92,000 people, between Saltdean and Seaford and from Newhaven to Newick in the north.

The incinerator is the big issue in Newhaven and Seaford and all the parties are against it.

In Lewes, residents are still seeking reassurances over flood defences and are concerned about county council plans for a new parking scheme within the congested town. Labour opposed the scheme, the Lib Dems are behind it.

Peacehaven, which many residents believe is the district's forgotten town, could be one to watch on the night.

The Lib Dems are hoping to maintain their top dog position but admit the new ward boundaries have made the election difficult to call.

They are focusing on council tax and environmental concerns, campaigning on their award-winning environmental record.

In the last election, they took 28 seats, the Conservatives won 18 and two went to independents.

With fewer seats this time, the Tories need to gain just four, while holding on to the ones they have got, to take control.

They believe their vote is holding firm and are fighting on issues including congestion and parking problems in Lewes and, in rural areas, the lack of affordable property for young people.

The district is not a natural Labour heartland but while the party is fielding just 19 candidates, it is working hard to get a seat or two on the board.

Peacehaven, where it had councillors until four years ago, is its number-one target, with candidates campaigning on the lack of bus services, shortage of amenity and recreational areas and the availability of social housing.

Labour is mounting an attack on the Lib Dems' record in local government, citing the money spent knocking down gravestones in Lewes and Seaford and controversy surrounding the running of Lewes and Newhaven town councils.

The Greens are fielding 25 candidates, including 14 in the 18 Lewes town seats.

They are focusing on the Lewes Castle ward but do not expect to win seats this time, saying they are building for the future.

The major planks of their campaign are a strong opposition to incineration and a commitment to a zero waste strategy, the reduction of traffic, tackling congestion and ensuring no more council housing is sold off.

As well as the district elections, 337 candidates will be standing in town and parish council elections.

CANDIDATES FOR MAY 2003 (Key: C Conservative; G Green; I Independent; L Labour; LD Liberal Democrat)

Barcombe and Hamsey (1 seat): Anneka Lundin (C); David Mitchell (LD); Samuel Sherwood (G).

Chailey and Wivelsfield (2): David Bullar (LD); Sharon Davy (C); Stephanie Littlewood (LD); Norman Turner (C); Michael Venables (G).

Ditchling and Westmeston (1): Lucinda Broadbent Smith (LD); Angela Craven (C).

East Saltdean and Telscombe Cliffs (3): Peter Anscomb (L); Christopher Laycock (C); Elizabeth Lee (LD); Ronald Maskell (C); John Morris (C); David Neighbour (LD); Marina Pepper (LD); Duncan Ward (I).

Kingston (1): Neil Commin (LD); Christopher Day (C).

Lewes Bridge (2): Patricia Ashcroft (L); Patricia Broome Reed (G); Katharine Clark (LD); James Daly (LD); Elisabeth Howard (L); Nicholas Hurd (C); Michael Morton-George (C); Lorraine Serrecchia (G).

Lewes Castle (2): Simon Anderson (G); Matthew Britnell (I); Michael Chartier (LD); Roderick Crocker (LD); Andrew Holyer (L); Keith Rapley (G); John Stockdale (L); Andrew Winter (C).

Lewes Priory (3): Carol Borowski (LD); Ann De Vecchi Hopper (LD); Johnny Denis (G); Trevor Hopper (L); Graham Mayhew (C); Christina O'Keeffe (I); Anne Sawyer (L); Clive Shorthouse (C); Jon Tan (G); David Tufnell (C); Stephen Watts (L); John Webber (LD).

Newhaven Denton and Meeching (3): Anthony Bradbury (C); Martin Crees (G); David Fitton (LD); Eric Lambert (L); Josephine Lewry (LD); David Rogers (LD); Charles Scanlan (C); Michael Spence (C).

Newhaven Valley (2): Richard Black (L&Co-op); Julie Carr (LD); David Howes (C); Judith Ost (LD); Luisa Serrecchia (G); William Spicer (L); Candida Terry (C).

Newick (1): Shirley James (C); Andrew Thomas (L); Thomas Walters (LD).

Ouse Valley and Ringmer (3): John Fletcher (I); Dean Lundin (C); Kelly Morgan (L); Andrew Sherwood (G); Andrew Small (LD); David Stechler (LD); Amanda Wilkins (LD); Ian Wilson (C).

Peacehaven East (2): Helen Attree (L); Susan Bratchie (C); Jacqueline Harrison-Hicks (C); Howard Rosen (L); Jacqueline Taylor (LD); Roy Taylor (LD).

Peacehaven North (2): Linda Beckmann (LD); John Best (C); Jean Couture (L); Susan Griffiths (LD); Barbara Powell (L); Robert Worthington (C).

Peacehaven West (2): John Carden (L); Lynda Hallett (C); Douglas Lawrence (L); Helen Livings (C); Sally Parsons (LD); Julian Pomphrey (LD).

Plumpton, Streat, East Chilton and St John (Without) (1): Lawrence Large (C); Sarah Osborne (LD).

Seaford Central (2): Patricia Bennett (LD); Gillian Cowdrey (C); Arthur James (C); Ralph Taylor (LD).

Seaford East (2): Robin Fricker (LD); Pauline Gower (C); Gerald Munro (LD); Ian Nicholson (C).

Seaford South (2): Robert Brown (LD); Robert Gower (C); Kevin Mayers (LD); Julian Peterson (C).

Seaford North (2): Edward Collict (LD); Paul Franklin (C); Roger Frost (C); Tracy Willis (LD).

Seaford West (2): Kenneth Davies (LD); Peter Harper (LD); Jane Hearn (C); Jean Whittle (C).