A CONTROVERSIAL council project to bring looked-after children back to Teesside will almost certainly go over budget.

Stockton Borough Council has already spent £2.27m of its £2.3m budget to re-open a specialist school and bring back 20 children in care to the area to be housed in four children’s homes.

The authority ha bought three properties to convert into children’s homes but must still purchase a fourth.

The first three houses cost between £400,000 to £600,000 each and it is expected the fourth will cost a similar amount and money must still be spend on refurbishing all the properties.

The inevitable overspend will be discussed by the council’s powerful cabinet committee next month. It is estimated the council will save about £400,000 a year from its annual running costs and so will eventually recover the money.

Coun Ann McCoy, Stockton Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said the money would eventually be recovered and added: “More importantly, we remain convinced that the project will help us to give our looked after children a better start in life.”

Meanwhile a row has blown up over contradictory Cleveland Police advice surrounding plans to convert two houses already bought by the council.

The police have two opposing comments published in a report to be considered by Stockton council’s planning committee on Wednesday, June 18 at 1.30pm in Stockton Tabernacle.

The planning committee is to consider whether to allow two properties, one in Stillington and the other in Hartburn, already bought by the council, to become children’s homes.

Stockton police’s architectural liaison officer gave advice to the Council that creating the children’s homes “had the potential to increase incidents of crime and disorder.”

That led leading members of the local authority to contact Cleveland Police again.

In a letter to Stockton council’s chief executive Neil Schneider, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Spittal acknowledged that, unknown to the Stockton police officer, Cleveland Police had been in dialogue with the authority a year ago over the issue and said; “Cleveland Police can foresee no reason why these facilities should adversely affect levels of crime and disorder.”

Campaigners against the children’s home have argued the episode showed the council had too much influence over the police. However, a council spokesman said council officers had merely “sought clarification” when faced with contradictory advice.