A MULTI-million pound project to refurbish Oxford’s five tower blocks could be delayed by almost a year.

The £18.36m scheme – approved by Oxford City Council in November – was due to begin by the end of the spring.

But the project is now not likely to start until early next year and is expected to cost an extra £1.75m, taking the price to more than £20m.

It will see Evenlode and Windrush towers in Blackbird Leys, Plowman Tower in Northway, Foresters Tower in Wood Farm and Hockmore Tower in Cowley undergo major improvements.

The blocks date from the mid-1960s and contain 348 flats in total.

But their refurbishment is now not likely to start until early next year and is expected to cost £1.75m more than planned.

Councillor Scott Seamons, the city council’s executive board member for housing, said the increase was because putting up scaffolding around Hockmore Tower in Cowley would be more complicated than previously thought.

He also said high demand in the construction industry had driven up the asking price of contractors.

Mr Seamons said: “Our initial projections were wrong and we underestimated how much risk would be associated with the project.

“In essence it is because Hockmore Tower is located above Templars Square Shopping Centre, so it will be more difficult to put up scaffolding than we thought.

“The project was delayed at the request of contractors, who wanted longer to think about it.

“They requested about two to three months. They will work up detailed designs and that may take us through to the beginning of next year.

“No one wants to see things get more expensive, but that is unfortunately where we are.”

The council has yet to finalise a contract for the refurbishment scheme, but Mr Seamons said it was hoped that one could be agreed in the summer.

He added: “This remains an ambitious and exciting project and tenants are going to get a lot out of what we are doing.”

The work set to be carried out at the city’s tower blocks will improve flats and communal areas, with the buildings also gaining new colourful cladding.

But the delay to the refurbishment scheme was criticised by Plowman’s Tower resident Terry Gordon, who bought the lease for his flat with his wife Diane in the late 1990s.

He said leaseholders had been told by the city council that they would have to contribute some cash towards the improvements, but did not say how much.

Mr Gordon, a grandfather-of-two and self employed window cleaner, said: “I am not happy about it, because I’m now at an age when I am thinking about retiring and selling the flat’s lease.

“I would not be comfortable doing that if this work is going to be delayed until next year, because I won’t be able to tell people who might be interested when they might have to pay towards it or how much.”

The 69-year-old added: “The council was supposed to start demolishing some of the garages in January, but we’ve heard nothing about that either.”

Evenlode Tower resident Lauraine Dineen, 32, said the main issues she had with her flat were with heating.

The mum-of-two said: “We are excited about the refurbishment, because the new heating system will help during the winter.

“We are not freezing but we do have to sit with blankets on the sofa when it gets cold.

“It’s disappointing to find out the new system might not be in place until next year now, but there is sometimes not much you can do about it.”

The budget increase for the towers scheme comes after the council already increased it from £16.6m to £18.36m in July 2014.

It is the second time the cost of a major building project has risen during the tendering process in the past year.

In April a report by the authority’s auditor, PwC, revealed the cost of the £4.2m Rose Hill Community Centre had risen by £478,000, because potential contractors had asked for more than expected.

Since then head of finance Nigel Kennedy said a new process for all projects worth more than £100,000 had been put in place to help anticipate problems before tendering.

City council executive board member for finance Ed Turner said the additional funding for the tower blocks scheme would be drawn from the housing revenue account.