Early response to Falkirk Council's invitation for ideas about location of new HQ

Industry experts believe the Grahamston project proposed by Bellair is deliverable.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 7th July 2017, 12:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 11:08 am
Alistair Campbell OBE, managing director of Bellair (Scotland) and son, Colin, who is a director of the firm, with part of the blueprint for Grahamston
Alistair Campbell OBE, managing director of Bellair (Scotland) and son, Colin, who is a director of the firm, with part of the blueprint for Grahamston

Around two thirds of the development site is earmarked for housing, with the rest taken up by the main regeneration ‘anchors’, Civic Centre and arts venue, an hotel, offices, retail, leisure space and multi-storey car park.

In their view that combination would not only strengthen Falkirk, but could also have a positive impact on surrounding areas including Grangemouth and Larbert by allowing a more collective vision for the entire district, bringing businesses and communities closer together.

Alistair Campbell said: “We have to stop thinking about Falkirk as a town. The area is fragmented with local communities competing for investment.

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“We need to think collectively and share a united vision. If the population of Falkirk district was considered as one, it would rival Dundee, one of the biggest economies in Scotland.

“Longer term, Falkirk should be seen on a city level and the Grahamston project could fundamentally enable this. The aim of our blueprint which we hope Falkirk Council will seriously consider is about getting the right outcome for Falkirk and Falkirk Council, who own 90 per cent of the ground involved, is best placed to drive this forward.

“What we have at the moment is depressing. Falkirk Town Centre is not fit for purpose, but I believe it can be given a kick start and attract the right investment which will give people a reason to come to the town.”

Campbell says Bellair has done its homework, speaking to train operators Abellio about their future plans, a major hotel chain on what would have to be in place to attract them, existing business tenants and possible investors.

He said: “It’s essential the council take the lead on this and Bellair is trying to encourage it to make the right decisions for Falkirk and with partners move things along.

“We think we have a compelling case, one that is attractive, deliverable and affordable. The council said last week it intends to carry out a market testing exercise to see if there are developers with projects out there that could potentially deliver a new municipal buildings and town hall.

“We anticipate there will be alternatives to our plan, but I’m happy there could be competition because that will mean Falkirk benefits from the best outcome. Bellair has prepared its blueprint for Grahamston which we think is a game changer. We will hand it to the council and play a supporting role and offer advice if they want us to, but it’s vital the decision the council finally takes is the right one.”

Yesterday (Wednesday) a council spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the scheme by Bellair Scotland to regenerate sites in the Grahamston area of Falkirk town centre and recognise its ambitions for the town.

“We are currently assessing our options for the council’s office headquarters and arts centre and we are keen to examine how this might assist the development of the town centre.

“We wish to consider the prospects for a number of sites around the town centre area and will test the market to see if there are developers interested in helping to deliver these proposals. We look forward to studying Bellair’s proposals in more detail.”

The council’s Municipal Buildings in West Bridge Street opened in 1966, but by 2014 had been declared “unfit for purpose” due to ever-soaring costs to repair and maintain it.

The Labour-led administration called for a full report on options and decided to sell the site, which is also home to Falkirk Town Hall, and build next door.

It announced the plan to invest nearly £23 million buying the nearby Westfield Clinic site to build its new HQ and relocating the town hall to the new £80 million Forth Valley College campus at Middlefield would be self-financing over the long term – but the idea met with stiff opposition from the SNP Group on the council who labelled it a “vanity project”.

Last May councillors agreed by one vote to put the proposal on hold until after this year’s local government elections.

Cancelling it completely would have added at least another £470,000 to the final bill.

At the time the SNP called for more information about the future cost of keeping both buildings “useable” but last week, and now in charge of the administration, council leader Cecil Meiklejohn announced a new plan.

After considering an updated report of the strategic property review of the headquarters, she told the council a market testing exercise will be carried out to see if there are any projects or developers out there that could potentially deliver replacement civic and office headquarters and arts centre.

Councillor Meiklejohn said: “Any potential new build within the town centre must have a regeneration element to it and have something to offer the community, not just an office block.

“This exercise will allow us to look for potential partners to help deliver this regeneration project. When we open it up to the market it means it is open to anyone to come forward and show an interest.”

Councillor Dennis Goldie, leader of the Labour Group, claimed: “I’m delighted to see you are maintaining our proposals that any new build would be near or within the proximity of the town centre. That was a longstanding committment of the previous administration.”