Falkirk arts centre: ‘Wrong project, wrong place, wrong time’ say Labour

The leader of the Labour group on Falkirk Council has hit back at criticism that their decision to refuse to back a new arts centre would cost jobs.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 6:10 pm

Despite extensive reports and hours of debate, a meeting of Falkirk Council last week ended with plans for the going back to the drawing board.

In an open letter, the SNP council leader Cecil Meiklejohn, said Labour had turned down their plans in favour of in favour of “half-baked, substandard proposals”.

Labour, however, rejected the claim.

Falkirk Council Headquarters and Arts Centre Project. - Option A was the office only at West Bridge St.

Councillor Robert Bissett, Labour group leader, said: “Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn tried to dismiss opposition to plans to build a combined council HQ and arts centre at the Cockburn Street end of the High Street as being all about parking.

"Nonsense. Labour councillors have raised concerns about these proposals since the start.

“We believe this was the wrong project, in the wrong place at the wrong time, one future generations would pick up the tab for decades to come – £2.25 million each year from our revenue accounts for the next 40 years.

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Councillor Robert Bissett.

“That is money that could provide services our communities need and deserve.

“And those figures are based on highly optimistic projections and timescales, guesstimates at best when you consider the problems that could be created by complicated compulsory purchase order negotiations, problems that would be removed by building on publicly-owned land only 150 yards away.”He continued: “We keep being told this would transform the High Street and be a real boost for town centre businesses. We doubt it. We’re still fumbling our way out of the pandemic.

“We don’t know how it will affect working life. Will people still go to the theatre in the same numbers?

“Online shopping has grown exponentially, what will be the long term effect?

“The SNP speak about the environmental improvements that could be included but recycling is always better than building new, re-purposing an existing building better than all that new concrete and steel.

“Then there’s parking. Good public parking is vital for workers and arts centre users alike, especially when public transport is so woeful.

“The SNP austerity being inflicted on Falkirk Council is what is holding Falkirk back.”

His comments came after Cllr Meiklejohn’s open letter.

She said: “These proposals fit into the budget cap imposed by both opposition parties, and, in June, further work was requested to visit other choices, including Labour’s expensive two or three building option.

“The professional reports were clear; Labour’s proposal for the current Town Hall site added £14m to the initial cost and significant additional running costs.

“The SNP’s vision was cost-effective and would maximise the opportunities to boost the town centre and help regeneration and recovery.

“External professional consultants and council officers, with decades of experience, provided evidence to suggest that, while answering any questions from the opposition.

“Despite this, Labour, with the Tories, voted it down in favour of half-baked, substandard proposals which had already been examined extensively over several years and found to be severely lacking or inappropriate.”

Cllr Meikljohn added: “Our proposals will be brought back to the table, but this delay will be severely detrimental to our town centre.

“It may be that the local elections in 2022 present the next opportunity for this project to move forward.”

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