The council could spend hundreds of thousands of pounds more than planned moving two libraries into fire stations.

The existing Redbourn Library has been operating out of a temporary building that’s said to be ‘not fit for purpose’.

And Wheathampstead is in space leased from the parish council, which could request it back at a later date.

But within weeks, residents of both villages will be able to access renewed and refurbished library facilities at their nearby on-call fire stations.

And – as well as improving the future for library users – it will mean empty space at the fire stations is used more effectively.

But at a meeting of the education, libraries and localism cabinet panel on Thursday, April 4, councillors were told that the cost of the scheme had soared by up to £674,000.

They were told that tenders for the two sites had been £200,000 higher than set out in the initial feasibility study – and that once on site, construction costs had risen by a further £240,000.

But in addition the council may now also have to pay back some of the £700,000 funding awarded from the Department for Communities and Local Government's Fire and Rescue Service Transformation Programme.

When the award was made the plan was to move four libraries into fire stations – at Redbourn, Wheathampstead, Sawbridgeworth and Buntingford.

However Buntingford was removed from the scheme in autumn 2016, due to local opposition.

And now – as a result of residents continuing concerns – officers are looking at other options for Sawbridgeworth too.

Although the council was told it could keep the entire grant when Buntingford was removed, council officers say it’s unlikely to be the case if a further site is shelved.

And that, they say, is likely to mean the cost of moving Redbourn and Wheathampstead libraries into nearby fire stations will have increased by an estimated £674,000.

At the meeting, members of the cabinet panel backed recommendations for the council to agree the additional funding and to remove Sawbridgeworth from the scheme.

But ultimately the decision will be taken by a future meeting of the county council’s cabinet.

According to a report to the cabinet panel, the scheme at the two sites still represents “good value for money”.

But councillors expressed some concern about the management of the scheme – particularly costs omitted from the initial feasibility scheme.

Executive member for education, libraries and localism Cllr Terry Douris said: “It is a project where there will be lessons to be learned afterwards – but I think it’s worth pursuing.”

Liberal Democrat Anthony Rowlands said the bottom line was that the council were going to see “two fantastic projects”.

“Bottom line excellent projects – but this raises all sorts of concerns in terms of how this has been managed,” said Cllr Rowlands.

Conservative councillor Jeff Jones said: “I do think a lot of blame must come from the feasibility study, when a lot of the costs were done.”

And Labour’s Cllr Dreda Gordon said that while she was very pleased to see the upgraded libraries in Wheathampstead and Redbourn there was a need to focus on the particulars of the scheme.

Cllr Douris said the concerns about the scheme – including the overspend – would be considered further by the council’s resources and performance cabinet panel.

Building work on the new library at Wheathampstead fire station is due to be complete in May. Construction in Redbourn is expected to complete in July.