ONE of the country’s biggest construction firms has been chosen to build the new headquarters of Northumberland County Council at a confirmed cost of £32m.

The county development company Arch has awarded the contract to Galliford Try Building Limited – and work is due to start later this month.

The project, in the centre of Ashington, is expected to employ up to 220 people in construction over the next 18 months and at least 55 will be new job or apprenticeship opportunities for local people.

But the announcement from the council’s Labour administration has already attracted criticism from leader of Northumberland Conservatives, Coun. Peter Jackson, who claims the “confirmed costs” are “highly misleading”.

He says publicly available tender documents clearly state site preparation costs, utilities, a new road system, heating and car parking for 900 staff and visitors will take the project to the previously advertised cost of £80m.

“Would anyone build a house without a road, no car parking and basic utility connections?” said Coun. Jackson. “Then why does the Labour council not tell taxpayers what the full costs of this unwanted project are?”

However, the council’s Labour leader, Coun. Grant Davey, hailed the start of work on the five-storey building as an important step in helping to relocate council workers into towns across the county. “This is a welcome next step in our Market Towns Initiative to regenerate and improve Northumberland’s towns,” said Coun. Davey.