The future of Falkirk town centre appears to be at crisis point with reports more businesses may move out.
Marks & Spencer will close its High Street store for the final time this Saturday after more than 80 years trading in the retail heart of the district.
But instead of sounding the death knell for the town’s economy, efforts are being made to halt the decline and take steps to bring a change in fortunes.
It centres on partnership working and focuses on the need for new municipal and civic buildings being sited in the town centre.
As councillors prepare to discuss the SNP administration’s proposal for Falkirk Council’s new headquarters at a meeting on Tuesday, the Strategic Working Group has written an open letter detailing what it hopes the outcome will be and highlighting the need for a swift decision.
The group’s membership includes the BID, principle investors, including retailers, and councillors.
The letter states: “In light of the recent news of M&S withdrawal from Falkirk town centre it is fair to say business confidence is at a very low ebb with some town centre businesses reconsidering their position in Falkirk.”
It stressed “to restore confidence and act as a catalyst for further investment, the future of the town centre lies with a swift decision coming forward from Falkirk Council executive on the siting of a new HQ and arts centre”.
The letter continued: “If we are to retain the integrity of Falkirk town centre, the time is right for that decision to be aspirational and to meet the expectations of the businesses, shoppers and visitors of the town. A prompt decision on a town centre location will stimulate further growth and development for the town and deliver wider socio-economic benefit across the district
“This decision will make a hugely positive statement about the council’s support of the town centre, promote its regeneration and help secure the capital investment required to see our town centre emerge as a space ready to meet current and future needs.”
Members of the executive will discuss a report, prepared by Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn’s administration, on options for the new HQ and also a civic centre.
The Healthy High Street group formed by traders around two years ago has asked to be allowed to address the meeting and it is understood this will be agreed.
The report states: “The decision on a replacement headquarters facility is an important matter for the council to consider. It will be a significant investment at a time of financial stringency and has major implications for the council, the wider community and, in particular, the prospects for the town centre.“
Members are being asked to agree on a vision for the town centre and a new council HQ in a “central location” which will include office, civic and arts facilities and give officers the go ahead to produce a suitable business case.
But the administration acknowledges that the council cannot proceed with a solution to its headquarters requirements, including delivery of an arts centre, without a significant budget impact”.
Costs could be between £33 million to £50 million.
It believes the local authority should be looking at provision of a facility which includes 300 workstations for staff
The report states the new HQ should be central and be complemented by a civic square for outdoor events and performances.
Student accommodation and a hotel are also included on the adminstration’s wish list.
It also wants to see an integrated transport hub, focussed around Grahamston Station.
There should also be free parking to encourage town centre living, according to the proposal.
Councillor Dennis Goldie, Labour group leader, has previously given his support to a municipal building in the town centre.