Special meeting to discuss proposed Falkirk Council HQ and arts centre

A special meeting of Falkirk Council next Tuesday has been called to discuss the controversial subject of a proposed new council headquarters and arts centre for the town centre.

By Kirsty Paterson
Wednesday, 6th November 2019, 10:20 am

The joint office building and arts centre – which has a budget of £45 million – was agreed last year as a way to revitalise the town’s ailing high street.

It has the backing of town centre business owners who are watching helplessly as more and more shops close their doors for the last time.

But the latest proposals to go to the council’s executive revealed that the cost looks more like it will be at least £50 million – and that is only if it is built in its current location where the council already owns the land.

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The SNP minority administration is firmly committed to the project, saying the arts centre will bring people into the town and revitalise its economy.

The Labour group says spending this amount of money is unacceptable at a time when budgets are being slashed and council buildings in other communities are under threat of closure.

But in Falkirk, the balance of power is held by the six-strong Conservative group – and they have expressed grave concerns about a project they see as a risk that gives no guarantee of saving our town centre.

When the matter came to the last meeting of the council’s executive both Labour and Conservatives asked that the decision be discussed a meeting of the full council instead to give all councillors a say in what happens next.

The delay prompted criticism from local business owners.

But Conservative group leader Lynn Munro said they had not been given enough information to make a decision on spending such a huge amount of public money.

She said: “We cannot be bulldozed into making such a big decision, which requires us to borrow such a lot of money without knowing exactly what we are getting.

“Is it an office and an arts centre combined or two separate buildings? Is it mostly office or mostly arts centre, and is it possible to keep the projected costs within the budget of £45 million?

“Is there a sound business case for the arts centre, to demonstrate it will not be a white elephant and a drain on resources if it does not at least break even?

“Is it something the people of Falkirk are madly enthusiastic about or is it simply ‘nice to have’?”

Most importantly, she asks, will it resolve the problem facing the High Street when it is finally built or are there other solutions that might work?

The special meeting of Falkirk Council takes place on Tuesday, November 12 at 2pm in the council chambers.