THURSDAY'S local elections will see the three major political parties fighting tooth and nail for every one of the 20 seats up for grabs in Bolton.

In what promises to be an exciting election, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will be doing their level best to galvanise their traditional supporters and get them to the polling stations.

Local elections are always fought on a mixture of national and local issues and this year appears to be no different.

The Government's decision to abolish the 10p tax band, which affects many low-paid workers, coupled with the state of Bolton's pot-holed roads, will be just two of the national and local issues exercising voters' minds on May 1.

This year, one third of the council's 60 seats are up for re-election and, though the battle will effectively be between the three mainstream parties, there are other minority parties fielding candidates.

The Green Party has 10 candidates, the You Party, which has the slogan "It's OK to think for yourself," has six candidates, the far right British National Party has two candidates and the Left List, which is part of the Respect Party, has one.

As last year, there is one seat in each of the 20 wards up for re-election, with a total of 79 candidates vying for votes.

The main issues highlighted by residents are: l The proposed congestion charge l The effect of the 10p tax band abolition l Town centre redevelopment l Free school meal proposals l Over-zealous parking wardens, and l The state of Bolton's roads.

Members of the controlling Labour group will be out in force, trying to shore up their vote by doing their best to prevent issues like the 10p tax band row and the proposed Manchester congestion charge from disillusioning core voters.

Labour councillors say many voters have articulated their appreciation of the multi-million pound town centre plans, which they claim will revitalise the town, and say candidates are getting positive feedback about many local issues.

Cllr Cliff Morris, leader of the council and its ruling Labour group, said: "People are concerned about law and order, but they are also saying the extra Police Community Support Officers on the streets are making a big difference.

"Some people are mentioning the abolition of the 10p tax rate, but don't forget that, thanks to the Labour Party, 75 per cent of people have gained through increases in the minimum wage and through tax credits.

"We will give people a chance to say what they think about the congestion charge through a local poll. I am not predicting anything about the election. We will fight for everything that we need to fight for at this stage."

Hot on their heels is a reinvigorated Conservative Party. The Tories sense chinks in Labour's political armour and claim they could take control if there is a swing to the right, as anticipated.

Leading Conservatives say the 10p tax band row, the congestion charge, the state of Bolton's roads and low-level crime are the red hot topics on the doorstep.

Cllr John Walsh, leader of Bolton's Conservative group, said: "One of the main issues on the doorstep is the abolition of the 10p tax band, as people are getting their wage slips around now.

"We think that around 25,000 low-paid workers in Bolton will be losing out through this.

"The congestion charge and how it affects Bolton people working in Manchester is another major issue.

"If we gain power we will immediately freeze job vacancies and take a fundamental review of the whole council budget and eradicate duplication and waste."

Given the national political turmoil, the Liberal Democrats also feel they could be in with a chance - all the more so since they whetted their political appetites with almost two years of power in Bolton between 2004 and 2006.

Even if they do not win overall control, they are looking to snatch a few seats from both parties. The Lib Dems say the doorstep topics are trust in Government because of the 10p tax band being abolished, the congestion charge and lack of road maintenance.

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Roger Hayes said: "People are fed up of the state of the infrastructure, such as the roads and the parks.

"There has been some investment in the roads but £1million isn't enough - if we get control we would put more money into roads.

"We would trim non-essential council spending and we would say that roads are the highest priority because they have been neglected for the last 20 years.

"The congestion charge keeps coming up and people are telling us that they feel the Labour pledge of no rise in next year's council tax is not believable."

Using The Bolton News letters page as a political barometer, there are many local and national issues vexing voters this year.

The town centre development plans, where almost £1 billion of investments in the next decade promises to bring major stores, shopping centres, swish apartments and lots of retail units to Bolton, has brought praise and criticism in almost equal measure.

Many writers appreciate the town needs lots more investment to bring an influx of new major name stores but question whether there is a need for more flats and small retail units when the current town centre cannot support them.

Some support the Labour council's decision to introduce free school meals for all primary school children in their first term while others labelled it as a political gimmick, with one describing the move as pure "vote catching".

And yet more correspondents say car parking charges, and the draconian way fines are levied for the most minor of infringements, are frightening shoppers away from Bolton just when the town should be doing its utmost to attract more visitors.

But one of the major problems facing all political parties in the forthcoming local elections is voter apathy.

According to John McHugh, principal lecturer at Manchester Metro University, the real issue about local elections is low turnout.

"I think people have a feeling that they are disconnected from politics in general and that voting comes down the list of things they must do when everyone mainly worries about everyday things like paying the bills and booking a holiday.

"There is a sense that regardless of which party they vote for nothing radical will happen so a lot of people do not bother to vote.

"This year it will be interesting to see what the turnout is in places like Bolton. In London I predict the turnout will be higher because the mayoral election has some big characters and big issues.

"If the turnout is low people will start talking about internet voting, more postal voting and so on, but they are wide open to fraud. I think more towns might go down the mayoral route and vote for a big local personality who could make really radical changes.

"If I was advising the Government on how to get more people to the polling stations I would suggest voting could be done over three days, say Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and put booths in places like supermarkets and other places where large numbers of people go and that might improve turnout.

"But I would not recommend forcing people to vote - people should have the right not to vote and if you did try and force them many people would spoil their papers, so it wouldn't work."

More than 30,000 people have applied for a postal vote in this year's local elections.

Labour currently holds eight of the 20 seats up for re-election. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats hold six each.

The current council is made up of Labour (26), Conservatives (22), and Liberal Democrats (11). One seat is held by an independent.