CONTROVERSIAL plans to spend £10million revamping the civic centre in Grays have come under fire.

The plan for the new three-storey rebuild includes an “impressive and grand entrance”...costing more than £200,000.

A council officer told members of the council’s Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee it was a “critical project” which “sets the tone for development in Grays” and gives the council a presence on the high street that demonstrates a “commitment to transparency”.

However chairman, Labour councillor Oliver Gerrish wasn’t so sure.

He said: “The real danger in perception and potentially the reality of this project is that people see a major regeneration of the civic offices at a time when it doesn’t feel like we are able to deliver many of the services that in an ideal world we would like to. The important thing to understand here is that this looks like a fairly major cost to the council with the benefit of that largely being the offices that we as councillors enjoy.

“That may not be the best message to send to residents.”

Mr Gerrish stressed that councillors need to know how residents will benefit before this goes ahead, adding that otherwise it would be a “very unfortunate step”.

The £9.78million development will house a new council chamber, confidential interview rooms and a café.

The existing building will be split in half with one section continuing to be part of the civic centre and the other being converted into 120 new flats.

The council officer speaking at the meeting compared the plan to the Barbican Centre, a large multi-use performing arts centre in London. “I dare to say that emerging designs have shown signs of an elegant, handsome building”, he said.

Independent councillor Jack Duffin, deputy chairman, also questioned how residents would view the council spending £205,000 on a “grand entrance” at a time when their council tax bills were rising.

He said: “For some the only engagement they have with the council is paying their council tax bill, they want bins to be collected and they want the roads to be good and that is as limited as their connection is with the council.

“If we did a poll on how many people in Thurrock visit the civic centre I’d be surprised if it’s that high.”

It was confirmed that if the council chose to halt the project then £4.8million of the capital budget could be invested elsewhere.