Falkirk Council members listened to an impassioned plea from shopkeepers to help them save their businesses and then agreed to site its new HQ in the town centre.
The move, which was agreed unanimously by the council’s executive earlier today, means officers will now produce a business plan on the creation of a new council headquarters in a “central location” which will include office, civic and arts facilities and space for over 300 staff to hopefully increase footfall in the struggling High Street and town centre – which said goodbye to the long established Marks and Spencer store last weekend.
Several times during the meeting, members were urged to “leave politics at the door” and work together for the sake of the town.
Their decision to do just that, followed an emotional speech from Margaret Foy, chairperson of the Healthy High Street group, who was given permission by the executive to talk at the meeting on behalf of the town’s independent and national retailers.
She said: “We need you to agree to say you commit to the town centre – the businesses need you to commit to the town centre. Some of these retailers have a lease which is up next month.
“They need to know why they should renew that lease, they need you to commit to the town centre. The fact it will be happening is enough for other developments to start which will be enough to see us through the next few years.
“When your time in the council is up, you can walk away knowing you left this town in fit shape for generations to come. This opportunity will not come around again.”
Miss Foy revealed the Howgate Shopping Centre landlord, Ellandi, had made it clear it would walk away from Falkirk if a decision was made to locate the council headquarters anywhere other than the town centre and a new landlord would be unlikely to come forward.”
She said: “You need to put politics aside and consider not only the future of our town centre, but the positive impact this investment could have on our whole district. We don’t have time to debate this for another year.”
Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn stated the administration had been in contact with Forth Valley College to create student accommodation in the town centre when the new campus opens and subsequently boost footfall for day-time and night-time trade.
The decision to commit to the town centre will mean a significant investment for Falkirk Council – estimated costs range from £33 million to £50 million – at a time when money is tight.
As the officer’s reported stated: “The administration acknowledges the council cannot proceed with a solution to its headquarters requirements, including delivery of an arts centre, without a significant budget impact.”