Investment Zone could unlock 6000 jobs for Falkirk and Grangemouth

Falkirk Council’s door is open to partners that want to help it secure a deal that could bring 6000 new jobs to the area and unlock millions of pounds of investment.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 5:40 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 12:27 am

That was the message from the council’s chief executive, Kenneth Lawrie, as he introduced the council’s bold vision for the area to an audience of 250 people from the public, private and third sectors.

They were at the Macdonald Inchyra Hotel to hear how the council’s bid for £235 million of funding will be used to create an ‘Investment Zone’ around Falkirk and Grangemouth.

Part of the Growth Deal cash – which will come from both the UK and Scottish Governments – would allow plans to spend £72 million to improve area’s road, rail, sea and pipeline infrastructure to go ahead.

This could mean enhancing rail freight facilities and enhancing the roads that lead to the port.

And that, said Mr Lawrie, would help to really make the most of Falkirk’s most enviable asset – it’s location at the heart of Scotland.

The central location that made Falkirk a post for Roman conquerors; a gateway to the Highlands for cattle traders; and a key player in the industrial revolution that transformed Europe in the 19th century, still brings benefits today.

The district boasts Scotland’s largest container port, its only oil refinery, and one-third of Scotland’s chemical industry – and the aim of the Growth Deal is to encourage more of the innovative industry that can already be found in Grangemouth and across the district.

But that will mean a change from being home to some of the biggest carbon emitters in Scotland to leading the way in green technology – including major investment in carbon capture.

And the economic partnership behind the bid believes that establishing Grangemouth as a centre of research for green industry could also revitalise its neglected town centre.

They say this will mean investing heavily in education and training to make sure people living in the district are well-placed to take advantage of highly skilled and highly paid jobs that have been promised.

The Growth Deal also wants to tap into the massive transformation Falkirk has seen in recent years as its visitor numbers soar – more than doubling since 2009.

That is thanks mainly to the success of The Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies and £80 million of the cash will be used to build on their huge success to create sustainable travel, tourism and energy supply.

Catherine Topley, chief executive of Scottish Canals, said: “It’s clear that he Falkirk and Grangemouth Investment Zone has a strong position on the national stage in Falkirk and the UK, with international opportunities ready to be seized.”

Mr Lawrie said it was now time he believes that Falkirk’s role as a major centre of industry and a booming tourist destination were recognised, along with the heritage that has shaped it, adding: “Ingenuity, innovation and invention are hardwired into that heritage.”

“Yet in recent years, if truth be told, we feel a little bit overlooked perhaps as one of the very few areas in Scotland that doesn’t have a Growth Deal and that is something we’re addressing as a matter of urgency. It’s now time that the industrial importance of this area is not only recognised but also supported.”

For many attending, including several small business owners, their first question was: ‘How do we get involved’ and Mr Lawrie said the conference was intended to start a conversation.

He also promised that the economic benefits would be felt by all as the Scottish Government made it a clear priority for any projects to help address inequalities and make Falkirk a great place to live. These will look at ways to improve the employment, health and education of those in deprived area and aim to revitalise the district’s town centres.

Falkirk Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said that the Growth Deal cash was part of wider private investment that was already being made including £900 million by INEOS and £150 million by Calachem.

She said: “The major investment already being made by chemicals, manufacturing, logistics and tourism businesses in the area is good news. It means that we must also make transformational public sector investment in the region’s infrastructure so the area can build on its current position as one of Scotland’s economic hotspots.”