More than half a million pounds has been spent on a controversial plan to redevelop the council’s civic offices, before any building work has begun.

The spending has been detailed by the council after questions were raised about a report which said there has been “significant expenditure”, despite not having planning permission and failing to present a business case.

Among the spending has been £70,580 on “the development of concept designs” and £440,300 on “surveys and architectural work”.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service had to request the information from the council five times before it was eventually provided.

A spokesman for the council said: “The plans to extend our civic offices will enhance the customer experience, maximise civic and community use of the building, and set the tone for development in Grays including providing vibrant new housing on the current site.

“The development will feature new and enhanced public spaces including meeting rooms which the community can use, a new café and outdoor seating area open to the public and a new registrar’s garden for ceremonial use.

“Capital funding was first approved in the budget of February 2015. The current plans were first approved by Cabinet in November 2017. Design improvements to the scheme went to Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee in November 2018 and were approved by Cabinet in December 2018.

“Spending committed on the Civic Centre project so far is on architectural and surveying work.

“The spend to date is all part of the £9.78million project budget, around £2.8million of this budget will be funded by income received from the sale of land freed up for housing development when the older part of the Civic Offices are demolished.

“The works are being funded by capital expenditure which has been set aside for a number of years.”

The council report also highlighted that if the civic centre extension was abandoned it would require them to pay compensation.

A motion calling for the plans to be abandoned will be discussed by councillors on Wednesday evening.