IT’S the controversial county council headquarters built with £40m of taxpayers’ money.

But when the Daily Echo tried to cover the official opening to show readers what they got for their money, we were banned.

The glitzy launch was aimed at showing how the dilapidated 1960s office block had been transformed into a sleek, modern, sustainable building, which has already won awards for its green credentials.

However, as council leaders were hailing Elizabeth II Court’s revamp, the Daily Echo photographer was being turned away from the event.

This is despite hundreds of dignitaries being allowed in, among them Cabinet members, county councillors and mayors from across Hampshire. They sipped punch and ate canapes as county council leader Ken Thornber lavished praise on the plush new HQ, formerly known as Ashburton Court.

To add insult to injury, the county spent more of taxpayers’ money producing a glossy souvenir brochure, which it handed out to those who attended.

The council’s actions have prompted a barrage of criticism.

Martin Tod, prospective Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Winchester, said: “I'm really shocked. This is a publicly-owned building, they are public officials.

They've just spent over £40m of public money, the public has a right to know.

“Democracy only works if the press can freely report on what politicians get up to. It’s extremely worrying that anyone in public life should think it was acceptable to throw the press out in this way.

“After all, they’re a county council, not MI5. What have they got to hide?”

Christine Melsom, chairman of tax campaign group Isitfair?, added: “It seems to me there’s something Ken Thornber was not wanting us to see.

“The building is public and they should be able to see what’s going on – it’s a huge amount of money being spent there.”

The county council’s stylish new surroundings have already been slammed for being too extravagant.

Around £1.25m has been spent on furniture alone while the children’s department has multi-coloured designer sofas. The new-look offices boast the best in office chairs and streamlined desks and cabinets.

Cllr Thornber confirmed that press and media organisations from across Hampshire had not been invited.

He added: “This is not a public building in that, apart from the reception and meeting areas, all offices are secure and access can only be through authorised pass.

This is in accordance with good security and safety arrangements.”