Potentially offensive swastikas above an entrance into Essex County Council's main office have to be seen in their “architectural context” the council has said.

The comments follow a freedom of information request submitted to Essex County Council asking why Essex County Hall, in Chelmsford, was commissioned with swastikas on it.

The request was made by a member of the public about the symbols which can be seen above a main door of the offices.

The plans for the building were finalised in October 1926, six years after the Nazi party was founded, and the building completed in 1939, the year the Second World War broke out.

Although now widely associated with the Nazis the swastika is also a religious symbol found in Buddism and Hinduism and appears on many buildings such as india House in Aldwych, London.

An Essex County Council spokesman said: “Given similar designs are featured on other public buildings of similar age it is important the symbol is seen in its architectural context.

“That part of County Hall has Grade II listed status and any changes could be extremely costly to the public purse and would have to be approved by English Heritage.”

In the request the unnamed applicant said: “It’s potentially offensive and upsetting to those that lost loved ones in the war or those that fought for their country.”