COUNCIL officers overseeing a drive to replace residential homes for the elderly with flats linked to support services have been urged to thoroughly assess their budgets after a flagship scheme developed a £368,000 black hole.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive was told its £7m extra care housing project in Sowerby, had been put at risk as the cost of building the 52-flat development had risen by five per cent.

Councillors, who are aiming to develop numerous extra care housing schemes to support vulnerable people over the next 15 years, say it is vital forthcoming schemes such as the one in Harmby Road, Leyburn, do not exceed their initial budgets as it could lead to them being axed.

An officer’s report stated that construction costs rose by £115,000 after Hambleton District Council planners insisted on a more complicated roofline for the Chapel Street complex, which will include a mix of tenure types and a range of communal and community facilities, including a public library.

It said had there been more time to develop the plans before the deadline for an unexpected Government grant for the scheme, some of this extra cost could have been avoided.

As the county council ordered developers Housing 21 to build the project in two phases to prevent elderly residents having to move twice, the budget rose by a further £34,400 to meet health and safety requirements and overcome parking issues.

After electricity provider Northern Power Grid reviewed the nearby substation, it found it needed to be replaced at a cost of £52,000, and it was found £68,000 would be required for the library’s fittings.

Finally, as extra care housing is classed as a cluster of domestic buildings, the county council has agreed to install a £95,000 fire mist system due to the high profile of fire enforcement regulations following the deaths of two jockeys at flats in Norton.

Councillor Clare Wood, the council's executive member for health and adult services, said while everyone wanted to avoid cost overruns, they should be expected in the future.

Thirsk councilor Gareth Dadd said: “To pull out now would be unthinkable. I would say in future we need to be a little bit more savvy when establishing the cost case, but I appreciate that much of the rise has been due to unforeseen circumstances.”

After Housing 21 agreed to provide £23,000 of the shortfall, councillors approved redirecting £345,000 to the Sowerby scheme from another completed complex in Settle.