Falkirk Council HQ: Decision essential to transform eyesore into vibrant space
Councillors were told today (Wednesday) that a "go-forward" instruction was essential to allow the transformation of an ugly 1960s eyesore into a vibrant space that would anchor the regeneration of the town centre,
Members of Falkirk Council meeting online, were being asked to approve plans to demolish a block of offices, shops and houses at the west end of the High Street and into Cockburn Street to make way for a civic centre with a theatre, library, advice hub, meeting rooms and office space.
After examining the options and weighing up many factors - including cost, complexity and timescale - the High Street/Cockburn Street site was thought to be the most suitable, while selling the current site would generate cash.
Addressing the meeting on behalf of retailers belonging to the Health High Street Group, Margaret Foy, told members that they shared officers' confidence that the decision would "stimulate growth, build confidence, create jobs, attract further external funding and help secure the future of Falkirk town centre".
Officers had looked at other options including Callendar Square, where a let to the DWP had made the situation very complicated and was also proving to be the most expensive.
They also discounted the current site of the municipal buildings and town hall, saying that it would not attract any grant funding and would mean they could not benefit from selling the nine acres of land attached to the site.
In September, councillors narrowly voted to pursue the project, which is set to cost £45 million, when four Labour councillors voted against their party, saying it was "time to stop the game playing".
But at this week's full council meeting - the last before the summer recess - it was clear that none of the doubts and concerns about the project had gone way.
Some of the commercially sensitive information has not been put in the public domain and councillors discussed it in private.
Labour group leader Robert Bissett said his group supported the High Street site for an arts and civic facility - with an entrance across from the historic Trinity Church - and were in favour of moving forward.
However, his group felt it was too tight a space to also have offices there and proposed a motion that the council should develop the HQ and arts centre but also an office on the site of the current Westbank facility.
They also called for a fuller report on the parking that would be available for the new civic centre.
Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said that all the studies had shown that decoupling the office and arts centre was the wrong thing to do and would also inevitably add to the cost.
She added: "We are going to lose developer confidence because they can't make a decision.
"Businesses are waiting on this decision and if we get it wrong, they're off."
She also felt that two buildings would not decrease the cars on the road and the new location would allow them to look at changes to buses that would encourage people to use public transport.
The debate continues.