By Local Democracy Reporter
A NEW civic centre costing almost £10 million is set to be built to house Thurrock Council.
Tory Cabinet members in Thurrock have backed plans to spend the cash on new council offices, despite questions over whether it is an appropriate use of funds.
The decision means that council officers will now draw up a full planning application for the three-storey extension to the Civic Centre on New Road in Grays.
The application will be based on plans that propose dividing the building in two, with one side being extended and retained for council use and the other being converted into a residential area which could comprise of 120 flats.
The scheme has been engulfed in controversy since it was announced, due to the £9.78million price tag, includes more than £200,000 being spent on an “impressive and grand entrance”.
Thurrock Council has called it a “critical project” that will set the tone for development in Grays and give the council a presence on the High Street.
Tory Councillor Mark Coxshall, cabinet member for regeneration, acknowledged that the cost was high but said that the council wants to “build better than London”.
He said: “We want homes better than London and we want offices and building that are more iconic built in Thurrock.”
He added that the council also needs to deliver more homes and this will mean at least an additional 120 new homes which are “vital for the Grays regeneration project”.
Tory Council leader Rob Gledhill said: “If we are upping our game then that is going to come at a cost. We need to understand that we are a customer facing service, this is a new customer facing entrance and it is going to be a lot more sympathetic to those in need, for example it will have an area specifically for the homeless.
“This really does tick an awful lot of boxes beyond just an entrance.”
The project will be financed primarily through the council’s capital budget which already had funds earmarked for the refurbishment of the civic offices.
About £2.4million is expected to be gained from income from the flats.
An additional £1.4million will need to be raised through other means.
When the plans were discussed by a scrutiny committee in November, Labour councillor Oliver Gerrish said: “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.”
He stressed that residents should understand how they will benefit or allowing it to go through would be an “unfortunate step”.