Town centre: Businesses call on council to honour promise to build new HQ and arts centre

A group of town centre businesses has launched a petition calling on Falkirk Council to honour its promise to build a new council HQ and arts centre in the town centre.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 1:17 pm

Members of Falkirk Healthy High Street group are urging councillors to “take urgent steps” to re-start the project which was voted down in September.

Their petition also aims to drum up wider support for the project, which they believe would create and support jobs – and be well used by many.

In February 2019, councillors agreed to set aside £45 million of capital budget to fund the new facilities, including a new theatre, library, advice hub and café as well as some offices and flexible space for meetings and events.

A group of town centre businesses has launched a petition calling on Falkirk Council to honour its promise to build a new council HQ and arts centre in the town centre.

Margaret Foy, the group’s chair, said: “None of this money can be used for council services such as social care, roads, or education which are funded from the revenue budget.

“Locating the new HQ and Civic Facilities in Falkirk’s traditional town centre, means the project also attracts between £8-£10m of investment grant funding. This money will be lost if the project is located elsewhere.”

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The business people say the chosen site – on Falkirk High Street and Cockburn Street – would not only transform the area but also encourage more regeneration as private investors would follow the council’s lead.

Falkirk Council is looking at a new HQ and arts centre in the town centre

Ms Foy said: “The unsightly, vacant buildings at the west of the High Street create a terrible first impression to anyone arriving via West Bridge Street.

“By regenerating this end of the High Street with a modern building, new life can be breathed into the traditional town centre.”

In June 2021, a cross-party decision was made to press ahead with plans for the site – but in September, that was reversed.

The traders say the uncertainty has put jobs at risk.

They also point out that £600,000 – already been spent on design and feasibility costs – will now have to come from the revenue budget, rather than as part of the overall capital investment.

Lauren Brown, a founding member of Healthy High Street, thinks it is vital to bring footfall back to a town centre that’s competing not just with the internet but also the retail park which offers free parking.

The owner of Sisters and Misters on Lint Riggs believes the new facility would attract bigger and better acts.

And it could also be used to host events such as dance, gymnastic and martial arts competitions.

She said: ”We would have something that is very flexible so during the day mums can meet for toddlers group and that sort of thing, but at night you’d have the theatre.

“People would come to it, and we’d be able to attract bigger artists than we’ve ever got at the town hall, where you’re sitting on a plastic seat on scaffolding.

“If we can fill Falkirk Stadium with Little Mix, Elton John and Rod Stewart, we could be doing that at the town hall – we could be getting brilliant acts if we had a site fit for purpose.”

Last week, members of staff also spoke out anonymously about their frustration, blaming councillors for a situation which has seen nearly £2m spent, with nothing to show for it.

Since going online on Friday, the petition has nearly 1000 signatures.

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