WINCHESTER goes to the polls on Thursday (May 1) amid allegations of electoral irregularities in one of its wards.

Thursday's contest, in which a third of Winchester City Council's 57 seats are up for grabs, will define the body's make-up until 2010.

But the election has been overshadowed by the arrest of a Conservative Party activist in Whiteley.

Last weekend police charged John Hall, 67, of Coriander Way, with making a false instrument under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, falsely registering information and making a false proxy voting application. He will appear at Guildford Magistrates' Court on Friday (May 2).

The Tories retained power of the city council last year when they successfully defended nine of their 10 seats. This time they are protecting six of the 19 seats up for election, compared with the Lib Dems, who are defending 11.

The Conservatives, who have controlled the city council since 2006, currently have 29 councillors, compared to the Lib Dems with 23, Independents, four, and Labour, one.

Council leader George Beckett said he hoped voters would take into account the authority's record, which included improving public services and keeping council tax rises below the rate of inflation.

Speaking about his chances of retaining the Compton and Otterbourne ward, he said: "It's been held by the Lib Dems in the past so there's a danger there will be an upset. But I'm confident."

He admitted there was a danger that UKIP - who are fielding seven candidates - could hand the Lib Dems an advantage in some areas.

He said: "I think UKIP do run the risk of ending up effectively splitting the vote, which gives support to the most pro-European party in the country and that's regrettable."

Therese Evans, the Lib Dem leader, said council housing and future development in the district would be key areas for voters.

Cllr Evans, who is seeking re-election in Wickham, said: "There has been a lot of discontent in my area over the increase in garage rents and also the selling of up to 10 council houses a year and no guarantee that they'll be replaced. Housing is an issue we take very seriously.

"One of the key areas will be development in the southern parishes. Up to a thousand homes in Wickham and Knowle, which will double the size of the villages. And there's Barton Farm, obviously.

"We feel we have fought an excellent campaign - we have been very active, with candidates we believe in."

Meanwhile the Green Party, which only opened a Winchester branch in March, is fielding four candidates.

Jo Woodman, who is contesting the St Bartholomew seat, said new Green councillors would tackle council weaknesses from the inside.

She said: "Despite all the green' promises from the council, Winchester came bottom in a national WWF survey recently, found to have the worst ecological footprint per household of any city in the UK. Green Party councillors would turn this around."

Labour candidate Patrick Davies said the key wards for his party would be the ones such as St Luke and St John & All Saints in Winchester where they had enjoyed success previously.

Speaking about Labour's chances, he said: "I'm not a betting man, it's in the lap of the worthy electorate.

"I've certainly had a very helpful response on the doorstep but how that translates into votes only time will tell."