Pivotal decision on council HQ and arts centre holds key to Falkirk town centre future
Two proposals, one huge decision - but where do you stand on the debate over Falkirk Council’s plans for an arts centre and HQ in the heart of our town centre?
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.
Lockdown accelerated the transformation of town centres - moving further away from a place where people once flocked to shop to one they use for many different purposes.
The three Rs have become the foundations of the future. Retail remains hugely important -built around independent traders rather than national chains - but it has to be supported by residential and recreational development.
And, for many, the creation of the local authority’s head office and an arts centre is the key to creating a new era; one very different from High Street much loved by previous generations and still staunchly defended, and criticised in equal measure, by folk today.
September 24 is when councillors will discuss the issue once again.
The last debate spanned some nine hours, and left two options on the table.
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 talk of transformational change, but, for Elaine Grant, manager of Falkirk BID, it has to be both buildings in the heart of the town.
Her mantra is simple - the High Street is not dying, it’s changing, and this multi-million £ project holds the keys to unlocking so many other doors.
“It really cannot come soon enough,” she said. “We all see it can have a huge knock on effect in a very positive way.
“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.”
Elaine argues that bringing around office staff into the town centre on a daily basis generates more spend among traders, and brings more football to the area - but the ripples spread much wider.
“To have the arts centre and HQ in our town centre will have a significant impact not just on local business but through further investment.
“There are some large units that we would love to fill. It is going to be tough to do that in the current economic climate as most of the big players are not in expansion plans in terms of bricks and mortar.
“For many, the council HQ and arts centre is the catalyst for them to be repurposed and to encourage more investors into the town centre.
“We have to look at new ways to repurpose those buildings - that could be health services, places to meet, or residential. Our High St isn’t dying - it’s changing and evolving.”
The road ahead could now hinge heavily on the outcome of the local authority’s decision where it puts its HQ and arts centre.
For people with a passion for the town centre it is a pivotal moment.
Elaine has no doubt people care about their town centre and want to see it as vibrant as possible post lockdown.
Reconnecting people with the place they live, work and enjoy their leisure time, has brought many independent businesses into town, and lockdown saw the BID offer free delivery service on their behalf, ensuring people who couldn’t get into the area could still use their services and goods.
She said: “People do want to support their town centres and businesses whether they are national or independent
“They all employ people fro across many towns - Denny, Grangemouth and so on - so developing the town centre isn’t just about the town centre itself
“The impact goes much wider.”
> Where do you stand on the plans for the town centre HQ and arts centre? We’d love to hear your views: Email [email protected]