Council chiefs are being urged to come clean over a major revamp of South Shields Town Hall.
The go-ahead has been given for the work, lasting up to a year, which the authority says will save it £1.5m a year in running costs.
Residents have every right to know.Dia Chakravarty
But it won’t say how much the project is costing because of “commercial sensitivity”.
Independent councillor Lee Hughes and public spending pressure group, The Taxpayers Alliance, say council tax payers have a right to know.
The Grade II listed building in Westoe Road, South Shields, is in line to be rewired and have its heating system upgraded but the green light has also been given for new chandeliers, a reception desk and tea-making facilities.
Workers have have already temporarily been moved out of part of the building for the works, which are expected to be completed next year.
Council bosses say all improvement works are “essential” and will, in turn, save tax payers about £1.5m annually in running costs.
But critics want to know just how much the revamp is costing overall – a figure the council, which has to make savings of £55m in the next four years, won’t give.
Coun Hughes, who represents the Bede ward, is demanding to know the true cost. He said: “While it is important that the Town Hall is brought up to scratch for the 21st century, I don’t understand why there’s so much secrecy over the cost of this work.
“Someone must have a receipt for all of the work budgeted for and there must be an idea how much everything will amount up to.
“I don’t understand how an overall figure can be commercially sensitive.”
The Taxpayers’ Alliance also believes residents have every right to know what the revamp bill is.
Dia Chakravarty, the alliance’s political director, said: “Councils must do everything possible to make sure refurbishment costs are kept low.
“Residents – who are picking up the costs – have every right to know how the council is justifying the costs, particularly at a time when necessary savings are having to be made.
“Taxpayers pay their taxes to fund essential services, not to be spent on chandeliers.”
Coun Ed Malcolm, South Tyneside Council’s lead member for resources and innovation, said: “Major refurbishment work is currently under way and is essential to ensure the building meets modern health and safety standards.
“The improvements include essential rewiring and heating replacement work as well as repair and restoration work to preserve the building’s important historical features.
“Given its Grade II Listed status, it is important that certain features remain in keeping with the style and grandeur of the period, such as the replacement lighting proposed for the council chamber, grand staircase and reception room.
“This new lighting will be safer, modern, more serviceable and energy efficient while still being sympathetic to the building’s overall character.”
A council spokseman added: “The overall cost of the project cannot be supplied due to commercial sensitivity.
“We remain within the tender process to get the best possible value for money. As we are at a commercially sensitive stage, we cannot provide any details of costs at this time.”