It was once the bustling hub where shoppers and visitors got their first impression of the town.
Every day of the week Callendar Riggs Bus Station would welcome hundreds of passengers eager to spend their money and explore the sites. The famous ‘Bishop’s Corner’ was a meeting place for friends and families before heading for the High Street or a picnic at Callendar Park.
Within seconds of stepping off one bus you could board another one to Glasgow or Edinburgh or catch a connection to almost anywhere across the Central Belt.
You could have your haircut, pick up your favourite magazine at Menzies and explore the variety of stores in a busy Callendar Square where you could buy anything from groceries to almost every household item you could imagine and ever need.
Every Saturday people flocked to the open air market set up at the side of the busy car park which supplied fruit and veg and fish freshly picked or caught that day and offering an attractive alternative to the more usual tinned and pre-packed goods.
Each Saturday night couples would head to the famous Doak’s and dance and jive to live music from some of the top bands into the ‘wee sma hours’.
And during the summer holidays, when the sun shone brightly almost every single day, happy families would queue excitedly along Bellsmeadow to board a luxury coach provided by local operators Midland Bluebird to enjoy a ‘Mystery Tour’ to seaside destinations like St Andrews, Burntisland or somewhere equally exciting along the Fife coast.
The buses were operated by Alexander’s, one of Falkirk’s most famous families, and its iconic fleet of single and double deckers would fill the stands every minute of every day loading and unloading the masses and making the bus station a hive of frantic activity.
The rest of the town ‘fed’ off business the bus station generated.
From the bottom of the East End the length of the High Street to the West End of the town the crowds would hurry along, bringing trade and prosperity to local business and establishing Falkirk as one of Scotland’s most successful locations and a place to see.
Today, however, it is a pale imitation of what it used to be, an embarrassing example of how the economic downturn can impact on a once thriving commercial centre and turn it into a horrible example of what can happen in hard financial times.
While Falkirk district has attracted investment elsewhere, with a refurbished High Street a good example, and tourist attractions including The Falkirk Wheel, the five-star rated Callendar House and the new Helix Park continuing to attract huge interest, the sorry state of the town’s bus station is letting everyone down and attracting adverse - but justified - criticism.
Ian Scott of Falkirk Local History Society admitted: “There’s no doubt the current state of the bus station is an embarrassment to a town which is doing everything it can to attract visitors to historic gems like Callendar House or modern marvels like the Wheel and Helix. First impressions count and I’m afraid we will be judged by many on this rundown, unwelcoming and obviously unloved gateway. I met friends there last year and they were so disappointed I couldn’t get them away from the place quick enough.”
Frustration at lack of action
Senior councillors have bemoaned the sorry state of Falkirk’s once thriving bus station.
They are concerned its decline as a result of a lack of any serious investment over the years is contributing to a lack of interest in developing the east end of the town.
The situation is compounded by the fact the council has very little land interest in the area, making the possibility of applying for funding from any of the government agencies to regenerate the area simply beyond their reach.
Council leader Craig Martin admitted: “I appreciate the concerns which have been raised about how that end of our town looks. It is disappointing that while other areas have attracted investment no interest has been shown in developing Callendar Riggs or the nearby former Tesco site on Callendar Road. Our officers have been in discussion with the property owners and other interested parties and are trying to move something forward, but it is going to take time.”
Provost Pat Reid said: “I’ve been trying to get something done in this area since I was elected in 2005 and it’s been extremely frustrating. We really need all the ‘players’ to come together and agree a redevelopment strategy with us. How this part of the East End looks right now let’s everyone down.”
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of the SNP Group, said: “The failure to attach conditions to the application by Tesco to relocate their Callendar Riggs store to Camelon was a major opportunity missed by the administration. The regenerartion of the east of Falkirk did not register as a priority for them resulting in a loss of negotiating strength that has held the prospect of investment in Falkirk back. It is now time to bring Henry Boot, the development company which has been working to bring investment into Falkirk town centre, to the table.”