Plans to close Falkirk Council’s headquarters and build a new town hall moved forward as three Labour councillors voted against their party to agree a vital report.
It was described as one of the most important decisions councillors would ever make – saying yes to spending over £40 million on a new town hall that will include a theatre, cafe, library, advice hub and office space.
After years of debate stretching back to 2007, it seemed that once again there would be no agreement when Falkirk Council met online yesterday (Wednesday).But councillors finally backed a plan to keep costs down by moving staff from the Municipal Buildings into offices in Larbert once occupied by Thomas Cook and long-vacant offices at Falkirk Stadium.
Both of these are already owned by the council and can be converted at a fraction of the cost of a new-build.
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That left enough in the budget of £45 million to fund a new arts and civic centre aimed at bringing local people and visitors into the town centre to boost the economy.
Both Labour and Conservative groups rejected the plan, saying that taking so many Falkirk Council staff out of the town centre would be a disaster for local traders.Labour said they wanted instead to build new council offices on the site of the current building.
The Conservatives agreed although they added that they wanted facilities including a central hub and library to be brought onto Falkirk High Street.
But Councillor Gary Bouse was dismissive of Labour’s suggestion that building an arts centre could be looked at post-Covid.
“That’s not kicking it into the long grass – that’s kicking it into the forest!” he said.
Town centre councillor Lorna Binnie also supported the proposals.
She said: “Our communities want this – I know that from walking up the high street, speaking to people.
“There is a lot of despair in our high street and in our communities and they need impetus – we can’t stay in this state forever, going round in circles, having reports and meetings.”
Usually, combined Labour and Conservative votes are enough to defeat the SNP minority administration – but there was a shock in store for everyone from three Labour councillors.
Allyson Black had previously criticised the spiralling cost of the project, which had risen to over £53 million at one point.
But she was prepared to back the new lower cost plans that would bring people into the town centre.
She said: “We were right to challenge the rising costs in the project and here today we have a much better concept that gives the town centre a new library and front-facing services in a multi-purpose venue.”
Labour’s Joan Coombes said she made her decision thinking about the people who would be using the building in the years to come.
She said: “We’re doing this for future generations and we all have a responsibility to stop the game playing.
“This isn’t what our residents want to hear. They want confidence that when we’re spending public money we’re doing it wisely.”
Councillor Pat Reid also backed the administration’s plans while his Bo’ness colleague David Aitchison abstained from the vote.