THE Labour leaders of Blackburn with Darwen Council have come under fire on overspending on major building schemes.

Finance boss Cllr Vicky McGurk and regeneration supremo Cllr Phil Riley were forced to defend their record on controlling expenditure on three capital projects when the borough's executive board met on Thursday night.

They faced criticism for extra costs incurred on the construction of Newfield specialist autism school, Blackburn bus station and the new Darwen Market Square.

Cllr McGurk faced a public question from quantity surveyor Jon Baldwin over a £568,000 overspend on the £5.6million specialist Newfield unit partly caused because the original budget omitted costs for building demolition.

He said: "Do you think it is acceptable to forget to include demolition costs and who is ultimately responsible? It displays a level of incompetency."

Cllr McGurk said: "The council acknowledges the error and has amended its processes and procedures to ensure this does not happen again."

Cllr Riley was tackled on the revelation this week that Blackburn's new bus station cost £.8.4 m not the original estimate of £4.7m and on a cost overrun of £526,000 on the new square replacing Darwen's demolished three-day market hall budgeted at £1.5m.

Conservative group leader Cllr John Slater told him that after the council switched bus station building contractors he had claimed: "The project remains within its original budget and there are no extra liabilities to Blackburn with Darwen council'.

He asked: "Were you misleading the public then or are you misleading them now?"

He also said that the latest cost for Darwen Market Square would have enabled the council to refurbish the three-day market hall.

Cllr Riley said: "With the bus station we had three options: leave it half-finished, demolish it or do what we did and change contractors. What would you have done?

"I cannot believe you are still going on about the three-day market, an unattractive brutalist building. The square is a great place for events and addition to Darwen's civic pride."

Cllr McGurk said Tory finance spokesman Cllr Colin Rigby was wrong when he claimed earlier this week the council had overspent on six out of its seven portfolios when only children's services had done so in 2019/20