A politician has accused Wirral Council of Downton Abbey-style excess for spending £850,000 on what he described as an "executive fire escape" in Wallasey Town Hall.

Work is already underway and includes encasing the fire escape in double-glazing and buying banisters sporting cast-iron balustrades.

Conservative councillor Ian Lewis said: "At a time when the town hall is turning off streetlights to save cash, how on earth can spending so much money on an 'executive fire escape' be justified?

"This fire escape looks as though it would not be out of place in Downton Abbey.

"Fire safety must, of course, be a priority - but how many fire escapes are double glazed and kitted out to this extent?

"Either the town hall has been in breach of fire safety legislation for all these years, or whoever authorised this work must have missed the memo about cutting back on extravagance."

David Armstrong, Wirral’s head of corporate asset management, said the design of the stairs had to comply with the Grade II listed status of the building, and the balustrade reflects this.

He said: "The additional staircase is not an ‘executive’ facility, but is for the use of all employees.

"It is part of the works, along with a new lift – that finally makes the town hall Disability Discrimination Act-compliant.

"Up to now, it has not been possible for many employees with disabilities to legally and safely work on any other floor than the ground-floor in the town hall.

"This is a bar to fair and equal employment. Access to the upper floors has also been difficult for members of the public."

Mr Armstrong continued: "As part of efforts to save money by rationalising office accommodation, we have opened up more office space in the top floor of the town hall, and the people who work up there need to be able to enter and leave the building safely, especially in the event of a fire or emergency, as do any visitors.

"The staircase is double glazed and made of materials that will not burn in a fire."