Falkirk town centre businesses to boost from council HQ and arts centre decision

Plans to bring Falkirk Council’s headquarters and a new arts centre into the heart of our town centre would be a massive vote of confidence in the area’s future, businesses have said.

By James Trimble & Jonathon Reilly
Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 8:20 am
How the new theatre could look ...
How the new theatre could look ...

The local authority has to choose between two proposals on its final location.

But traders in the town centre say the commitment gives them a sense of security - and sends out a positive message to other investors.

Councillors have already spent nine hours debating the key issue, and those talks left two options on the table.

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Designs for the new arts centre and theatre

Council officers and the SNP want a block of shops and offices on the High Street and Cockburn Street should be transformed into a new council HQ and arts centre.

Labour wants the arts centre there, and a new council headquarters on the current site of the municipal buildings.

Both stress the transformational change that the developments would bring as town centres adapt to a future which will still have retail as a key element, but will also embrace more residential and recreational development.

It is the single biggest project in many years, and councillors’ decision later this month will shape the road ahead for business, investors and visitors.

Design for the office only option at West Bridge Street

And it comes hard on the heels of lockdown which had a profound impact on businesses across the town centre which, in common with many others across Scotland, has had to adapt to the rapid rise in online shopping and the continued challenge presented by out of town retail parks.

Falkirk BID argues strongly the High Street is changing rather than dying - and while retail, built around more and more independent businesses rather than chain stores remains hugely important, it has to ensure it embraces a vibrant service sector as people use town centres to meet and eat as well as shop.

For many, the creation of the local authority’s head office and an arts centre is the key to creating a new era.

Elaine Grant, manager of Falkirk BID, said: “It really cannot come soon enough. We all see it can have a huge knock on effect in a very positive way.

The design plans for the combined arts centre and headquarters

“It is critical that it is both the head quarters and the arts centre. That’s important.

“Split them and it is a step back.”

Businesses across the town centre are keen to reap the benefits of the major development.

Andrew Harkins, Corner Cafe owner, admitted:: "I'd want it round the corner!”

He looked back on a trend which has seen businesses moving out, and added: “We've just celebrated our third birthday in the town, and I think this would give the High Street a real shot in the arm if we were to get the council's endorsement.”He continued: "It could bring a lot of future investment and give the businesses still here a real sense of security.”Mr Harkins said it would also give other businesses and investors the confidence to move into the town centre if they knew a major employer was based here, and added: “We have the DWP moving in at one end - it would definitely help.

"It would definitely give me security to invest in my business.

"If we know there's going to be a big investment locally, I'd be happy to help it grow and take on additional members of staff if we saw an increase in demand - 2023 isn't too far off so it could lead to extra jobs.

"We've not had a bad pandemic; I think we've been very fortunate that people have supported us throughout, but having thousands of customers on our doorstep, potentially, every day is going to be excellent for us - even if it's just popping in for a coffee on the way to work, these things all add up.”Mr Harkins added: “I know the arts centre is more evening-focused but that would encourage developers to bring additional housing into the town centre which would support us because these people are not just here for the evening, they're here for the day."

Andrew McNeil opened Falkirk’s original Costa Coffee branch 16 years ago and has watched the town centre’ fortunes ebb and flow for a number of years.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time,” he said. “The big thing is footfall has reduced dramatically over the years.

“The council needs to do as much as it can to regenerate this.

“Even just having the arts centre in the town would be great, in terms of increasing footfall, helping give a boost to pubs and the nightlife.

“Having both the arts centre and the headquarters in the town centre would be the best option for us.

“There are a lot of independent businesses here who, like ourselves, have also been struggling lately so the council just needs to do whatever it can to get as much footfall back into the town centre.

“If it moves everything up here it would help us a lot.”

And all are in agreement - support for town centre businesses is key.

Leslie Lenaghen, of the recently opened Lonely Broomstick in Falkirk High Street, said: “I’m 100 per cent behind its decision, as long as it supports the businesses around them. If it does that then I have no issue with them.

“The council moving up to the High Street would make this one of the best locations to have a business.

“The High Street is central for everyone so the headquarters should be here.”

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