Falkirk Council: Proposal to turn former M&S building into council HQ

An ambitious proposal would give Falkirk Council its much-needed new headquarters and bring life back to a landmark building in the heart of the town.

Thursday, 24th February 2022, 10:30 am

Douglas Hannigan, who already owns a raft of properties in the town centre, has recently bought the former Marks and Spencer building at 59-63 High Street.

Now he wants to lease it to the local authority after converting it into a space suitable for offices, a One Stop Shop and library.

Plans for a new Falkirk Council headquarters have been discussed for the last decade.

Marks & Spencer closed in Falkirk's High Street in August 2018 now it is being suggested as a council HQ, One Stop Shop and library

The most recent £45 million proposal for offices, along with a theatre, library and advice hub at the corner of High Street and Cockburn Street were vetoed last September after opposition councillors raised concerns over parking.

But now Mr Hannigan has revealed his plans to transform the former M&S store which he said would help kick-start the regeneration of Falkirk town centre.

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He said: “My aim is to increase footfall in the high street by one million per year. This, I hope, is the first step which will begin a domino effect in getting Falkirk High Street back to being a place to be proud of."

Businessman Douglas Hannigan believes the former M&S building could be transformed

The building was last used by the retailer in August 2018 when it brought down the shutters after more than 80 years trading.

For over three years its future has been in doubt as a new owner was sought for the property which has six floors and covers over 84,000 sq ft.

It is currently used as a rehearsal and events space.

But under the proposals from Mr Hannigan the ground floor would be split into two with the main High Street access entering into a 300-desk open office hub of 20,000 sq ft.

M&S used to be a main trader on the High Street with the store linking the main thoroughfare with the Howgate Centre

He added: “On the left-hand side there would be a reception area, with access to 36 private offices on the first floor. The second floor would comprise of a kitchen, break out space and lounge area opening in to a 5000 sq ft open “green space” rooftop garden.

“The back part area of the M&S ground floor would house the Falkirk Council One Stop Shop with access from the Howgate Centre. An escalator would lead to a 16000sq ft library.”

He said the lower area would also provide 12,000 sq ft of storage facilities for documents and other items.

Mr Hannigan added: “I genuinely see this as an opportunity for all the efforts of those involved, the many years of meetings, minutes, conversations, Zoom calls and more, to make a difference and to reverse the High Street’s fortunes. It would be truly devastating if all this effort ended in vain.

"The town centre must change, it has to, if its ever going to improve, in any capacity. The focus must be more on residential, leisure and bespoke retail and services.

"Business that are surviving in the High Street are those that you can't be sourced or matched on the internet.”

He has also offered the council a five year rent free deal and is willing to fix the rent below the market rate.

Mr Hannigan added: “This would recycle an iconic and important building. I have sent my proposals to every councillor but to date only three have responded.

"We need councillors to state their position on this proposal.”

A similar plan in Wales will see a former Debenhams store in Carmarthen, opened at a cost of £74 million in 2010 and closed down last year transformed at the cost of £18.5 million into a home for the council, health board and cultural services and has been described as “absolutely the right idea” by politicians.

However, the response from Falkirk Council was muted.

A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “Council agreed in September 2021 that officers should focus on the current Municipal Buildings site with regards to a new headquarters. Since then we have been progressing with a range of feasibility options and identifying costs and the information on these will come back to members for consideration in due course.

"This decision and activity does not align with the option of the former M&S building but we are of course always happy to engage with local business leaders on the future of Falkirk Town Centre and will be contacting Mr Hannigan to discuss further.”

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council, said: “Following consideration and rejection in September last year of site options and appraisals for the site of the new HQ and Arts centre within the town centre, Council’s decision was for further work to be progressed by officers on the feasibility and cost evaluation of the current Municipal Buildings site for office accommodation and the refurbishment of the existing Town Hall building, which will come back to members for consideration in due course.

"The Council are happy to engage with Mr Hannigan on his plans for the future of what was the M & S building and will be contacting him to discuss.”

The proposal was welcomed by Margaret Foy, Howgate marketing manager, who said: “We are delighted the M&S site has been secured for development and welcome the investment into the town centre. This store closure had a catastrophic impact on footfall in the town centre and its central location and link between the High Street and Howgate offers a unique opportunity to revitalise the High Street.

"There are hundreds of staff working in the Howgate as well as various off-site staff, local suppliers and contractors who support the businesses, and of course thousands of staff working within the wider town centre, all of whom depend on footfall and investment for growth .

"We look forward to working with the new owner and hearing about their plans to revitalise this building and the High Street.”

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