A CONTROVERSIAL plan to close old people's homes and build new accommodation for pensioners is going ahead.

Durham County Council's executive committee has approved the scheme, which has been revised in the wake of consultation.

The shake-up was prompted by Government legislation setting new standards for homes, which the Labour authority says could cost it up to £60m to implement.

The council has 25 homes, but under the two-phase scheme the figure will be reduced to nine - one fewer than originally planned.

Six extra-care units are also planned, similar to one that is operating in Crook. Five were originally proposed.

There will be four units for the elderly mentally ill and the authority plans to maintain the total of beds available by buying places from the private sector.

The scheme will cost £18m, but will release £2.4m in revenue. The number of job losses will be 290, instead of the 350 originally planned.

The council also plans to arrange with district councils and housing associations the accommodation of vulnerable people in sheltered housing and to help people stay in their own homes.

The first stage will involve replacement of 12 homes with seven extra-care units by March 2004. The scheme will be completed by 2006.

It provoked opposition about the loss of homes and unions expressed concern about the impact on services and jobs.

Council leader Ken Manton said: "The new plan increases the number of extra-care places and beds retained in our own homes, reduces our dependency on the independent sector and reduces the number of jobs potentially at risk.''

But John Shuttleworth, Independent councillor for Weardale, said: "I think there is a long-term need for residential care and I don't think this plan will meet that need."