THERE will be 151 candidates contesting 59 seats in 22 wards in Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council's first postal ballot.

When nominations closed at noon on Tuesday, there were nine more candidates than the last election in 1999 in which Labour secured a narrow victory.

Well-known community figures standing as Independents include Ann Higgins, chairman of the Eston Residents' Association; Ken Seymour, former Liberal Democrat councillor who switched his allegiance to Socialist Labour; Linda Bell, chairman of the SRB community fund; and Mike Findlay, a community volunteer in Marske.

No BNP or National Front candidates have emerged.

The current state of the parties is Labour 31, Conservative 14, Liberal Democrat 11 and East Cleveland Independents 3, giving Labour a three-seat majority.

Hand-delivery of the postal ballot forms to the 105,000 strong electorate will begin in the week before Easter.

There will be a two-week voting window, starting as soon as the ballot papers arrive. The poll will officially close at 6pm on Thursday, May 1 and counting will start three hours later.

Already a political row has blown up about electoral procedures between the Labour leader of the council, Dave Walsh, and Liberal Democrat leader Chris Abbot.

Coun Abbot has objected to the practice of parties being supplied with the names of those who have already cast their postal votes before May 1.

He argues that, although there is no question of the way any individual has voted being revealed, the Labour and Conservative parties will be able to use their greater resources to focus on those yet to vote.

"It gives the other parties an unfair advantage," he said.

However, Coun Walsh said the practice is merely an extension of political parties canvassing outside polling stations.

He added that he had contacted the local government minister who had approved the practice and Liberal Democrat councils were using the same procedure elsewhere.