Plans to turn Falkirk and Grangemouth into a ‘city of the future’

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The 1968 blueprint to transform the area was the perfect opportunity to bring news back to the front page of The Falkirk Herald.

It involved a £200 million growth plan to create Scotland’s third largest city.

One of the main proposals was to expand the district’s population by 100,000 to 230,000 by 1986 and then to 300,000 by 2000.

The radical suggestion was that Falkirk should become the centre of a regional city stretching from Grangemouth to Denny, including Larbert, Stenhousemuir and Bonnybridge.

A major industrial area should be established around Grangemouth with smaller industries sited at Bonnybridge.

The report was commissioned by the three planning authorities at the time – Falkirk Town Council, Stirling County Council and West Lothian County Council, in association with the Scottish Development Department and the neighbouringtown councils of Grangemouth, Denny and Bo’ness.

The planners admitted that making Falkirk the administrative hub was a “contentious recommendation”, but they underlined its importance to the whole strategy.

Douglas Carr had been a reporter with The Falkirk Herald for two years when the decision was made to put news back on the front page.

Working with his chief reporter Ian Kyle, who went on to work for our now sister paper The Edinburgh Evening News, the pair were given the task of turning the reams of paper in the report into an exciting and informative read.

He said: “We had an advance copy of the Growth Report from the Government with an embargo on publication.

“In these days we were based in the High Street office. Ian and I were sequestered in the unused top floor of the building with a couple of typewriters and the Report which I recall was in several large volumes. Ian read half of them and I worked on the other half.

“It was a huge task and I’m not sure, looking back, how the two of us managed to produce so much copy. It took us three or four days working solidly in isolation – with maybe an occasional visit to Mathiesons, The Tudor Restaurant or the Steeple Bar – to read through the official documents.

“Then we began to hammer out the stories on two old manual typewriters – no computers then – revealing to our readers what the future of the Falkirk area could be. It was an ambitious and challenging vision.

“Each volume of the report covered a different topic, for example one on housing, another on industry and so 

“Though it made dense reading, once we teased out the stories about how the face of Falkirk/Grangemouth was expected to change and how it would affect every family it was heady and exciting stuff.

“And of course it meant Ian and I were the first reporters to get a front page byline in The Falkirk Herald.”

The report also contained plans to build 39 new schools – 30 primary and nine secondary – to cope with the planned increase in population.

It also proposed banning vehicles from Falkirk’s High Street, and developing health and social facilities.

Douglas added: “I’m not sure how the vision was matched by reality. We know the plan to merge Falkirk and Grangemouth as one city was blocked.

“The Labour-controlled Grangemouth Town Council, hugely wealthy with the rates from the oil and chemical complex that included BP and ICI, were not interested in sharing its wealth with neighbouring Falkirk.

“But driving through the Falkirk area I see vast housing estates on what were green fields and farm land when I first arrived to work on the Herald in 1966.”

Although it the growth plan never came to fruition in its entirety, many of the recommendations proved to be the building bricks for the district’s future.

From 1968 fast forward to 1996 and the new unitary authority that became Falkirk Council saw the demise of the smaller town councils and all came under one stewardship. Perhaps not a city but certainly a large urban area.

However all the towns – although no longer having their own elected bodies – they have retained their own identity.

And the proposed “large new regional park in a central location near Falkirk”?

Well it may have taken over 40 years to become a reality but it seems that in 1968 there was already a vision of The Helix Park.