THE latest in a group of residential homes for the elderly in the North-East was formally launched yesterday.

Maple Court, in Gloucester Road, Consett, County Durham, is part of the £18m ExtraCare project by Durham County Council, in partnership with Hanover Housing Association and construction firm MJ Gleeson.

North-West Durham MP and Government Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong performed the opening ceremony.

She said: "We have to make our services match the very best standards that all of us are looking for. I am confident that people here are going to get the very best."

The £4.4m development has 45 self-contained flats. It aims to offer residents a more independent way of life than a traditional residential homes, but still provide the necessary care and support.

Edwin George Storey, 89, a former steelworker from Consett, was one of the first residents to move in.

"I like everything about this place," he said. "The staff are great and I like having my own flat and furniture, but still having my people around to care for me if I need it."

Maple Court is the fifth of six ExtraCare schemes in the county.

They were set up in a controversial overhaul of the council's care strategy, that saw 17 out of its 25 residential homes shut down, including Stoneleigh in Barnard Castle and Watling House in Leadgate.

Duncan Callum, of Durham County Council, said: "The difficulty we had originally was that people couldn't see what the difference would be. Now we can bring them in and show them."

Four ExtraCare schemes have already opened in Brandon, Spennymoor, Ouston, near Chester-le-Street, and Seaham.

The final site, in Barnard Castle, will open its doors to residents on Monday.