Falkirk Trust told to turn Kelpies into cash

The Kelpies have the potential to be a real money spinner for Falkirk
The Kelpies have the potential to be a real money spinner for Falkirk

Falkirk Community Trust has come under fire for not using the drawing power of the Helix and its iconic Kelpies to coin in much needed cash.

At a meeting of Falkirk Council’s scrutiny committee last Friday, members heard the trust provide evidence of its performance over the last three years and the value for money the council is getting for the £26 million provided to it in that time.

General manager Neil Brown told members the trust had saved the council £1.3 million over the last three years.

But that did not stop criticism about the organisation’s failure to generate income from its biggest resource - the Helix Park and Kelpies.

Provost Pat Reid, committee convener, said: “I think the trust has been flat-footed as far as the Kelpies are concerned. I’ve had several visitors to Falkirk at the Kelpies with me and they have been looking around to see if there is actually something to spend money on.

“It’s an absolute embarrassment not having a visitor centre there, just shocking. We need an explanation as to why the centre is not finished yet.”

When no explanation was forthcoming from the trust, the Provost moved onto the parking issues at the Helix and how much money could be made if parking charges were introduced.

“Coaches which pay to park almost everywhere else in Scotland are getting in free at the Helix. We don’t want it to become a Disneyland, but there is a happy medium.”

Councillor Allyson Black said a retail opportunity had been missed because of a lack of suitable facilities at the Helix and it had been “naive” not to include retail opportunities in the plans for the Helix and the Kelpies.

The trust forecast the Helix would attract 500,000 people in a year and it ended up drawing in 680,000 visitors in just six months.

Mr Brown said: “When the Helix began it was not to be something which generated an income. It was a green space, it was open and it was free for the community. The park has been an unprecedented success and we now know there is income to be generated from that and we will do it.

“We are a non-profit making organisation and any profit we do make is invested back into the facilities. The opening of the Kelpies’ visitor centre and other initiatives will mean we won’t be reliant on council funding in the future.

“We are looking at ways of increasing income. There is a lot of planning going on this year and that will continue for the next two or three years.”

It was stated the trust raised £500,000 in the last year through external sources and it would be looking for the same total again in the coming year.

Councillor John McLuckie asked if the trust’s plans to seek £500,000 of outside funding from various sources was a little on the low side, but Mr Brown said the total was “realistic” and “achievable”.

Members also heard the trust was looking for permission to increase its borrowing powers from a maximum of £200,000 to £1 million.

The trust’s action plan for 2014/15 states the opening of the Kelpies visitor centre, which had been earmarked for August 2014, will be a “focus for visitors, particularly those from outside the area including international visitors”.

The lack of an online method of paying for tickets was also identified as something that was losing the trust customers. Mr Brown said there would be investment made in this technology to right this wrong.