A RESIDENTS' association has issued a last-ditch plea to Stockton Borough Council not to go ahead with the closure of two residential homes.

The Low Grange Residents' Association, in Billingham, has written to the council just before it makes its final decision on the homes in a full council meeting tomorrow.

The council has pledged it will devote more resources to the care of elderly people in their own homes, rather than putting them into residential homes.

But the association fears the closure of the Belasis home, in Billingham, will leave elderly residents vulnerable to thieves and vandals targeting their homes on the Low Grange estate.

Stockton council's cabinet has already passed the moves to close two of its remaining four residential homes, Belasis and Tithebarn, in Hardwick, Stockton, to transfer Rosedale in Bishopsgarth, into private sector care and keep Parkview, in Thornaby, in council care.

Residents' families, workers and unions protested against the moves, and vowed they would take the fight to the European Court of Human Rights.

The plans still need to be passed by tomorrow's full council meeting.

Geoff Harrison, secretary of the residents' association, said: "We feel that Stockton council is being very short-sighted in all this.

"Care in the community did not work with mental patients, and we don't believe it is always the best option for elderly people.

"Some of them might not want to go into homes, but at least they are protected there. The population of elderly people is increasing all the time, and there has to be provision to care for them."

And he warned: "These old people are going to be at the mercy of vandals, kids and burglars if there are more and more of them living here."

Stockton council said it "has no choice" but to close two of the homes. New government guidelines mean the council would have had to carry out £1.9m of refurbishments to the homes, including adding en-suite bathrooms.

Social services bosses have said keeping the homes is not financially viable.

Ann Baxter, head of social services on the council, said that there was a low demand for residential care, with homes such as Belasis only 57 per cent full. She also gave assurances earlier this month that tailored alternative provision would be found for residents, while saying she would "not rule out" redundancies among care staff