Winchester Liberal Democrats have been rocked by the departure of two of their city councillors.

Adrian Hicks and Alexis Fall have both resigned from the party, the Hampshire Chronicle can reveal.

Cllr Hicks, who represents Highcliffe and Winnall, said he was furious over national issues such as tuition fees and education maintenance allowance.

He said he had left the party but insisted he was still a member of the Lib Dem group on the council and would support it. But at the next elections in May he said he intends to stand as an independent.

Cllr Fall, who represents Stanmore and was the Lib Dem group manager, yesterday confirmed she had resigned at a meeting on Saturday and would sit as an independent until May. She declined to go into the reasons for her resignation.

However at last night Council meeting she sided with the Lib Dems on a vote, when the two independents and Tories voted against.

The Lib Dems controlled the city council with an overall majority of just one before the recent death of councillor David Spender. They currently have 28 councillors; the Tories 26 and independents, two.

The political changes throws open the possibility of the Conservatives regaining power that they lost last May. It comes at a time of budget tightening and the cutting of dozens of jobs at the council. The council tax is due to be set on February 26.

One Tory city councillor, who asked not to be named, said power “is a poisoned chalice at the moment.”

But Tory leader George Beckett said he was prepared to take over: “You cannot offer yourself for public service and then not take the opportunity.”

He added: “I’m not surprised there is disquiet within the Lib Dems in view of their lacklustre performance of the Winchester administration.”

The vacant seat is the Lib Dem stronghold of Oliver’s Battery and Badger Farm following the death last year of Mr Spender. The by-election will be on January 27.

Council leader Kelsie Learney said she hoped to persuade Cllr Fall to change her mind.

She added yesterday that she did not expect the Lib Dems to lose power: “I don’t think the Tories want to put this budget through.”

Should Cllr Hicks still side with the Lib dems they would effectively have 27 votes until the by-election that they are expected to win; the Tories would have 26 and the Independents three.