Town centre location planned for new Falkirk Council HQ
A block of shops and offices at the west end of Falkirk High Street and Cockburn Street could soon be making way for Falkirk's new council headquarters and arts centre.
After studying several town centre locations for the new venue, Falkirk Council officers will recommend the High Street/Cockburn Street site as the best option when they meet next Wednesday.
Not only is it the cheapest option, the demolition will also help the council in its quest to reduce the amount of retail floorspace in Falkirk town centre.
While traditional High Street shops were struggling even before the pandemic, the impact of Covid-19 has been massive - and Falkirk now has far too many empty units it desperately needs to find a new use for.
Whatever site is finally chosen, the aim, the report says, is to create a place that is "a powerful draw" that will bring people into the town centre and ecourage them to spend their cash in surrounding restaurants, cafes, bars and shops.
As well as being home to key council offices and a theatre, the new buildings will also contain a library, a council service hub, and other studio spaces.
If councillors agree, discussions will start immediately with all of the affected
owners - and the hope is that they will be ready to seek planning permission by May 2022.
If it proves necessary the council says it will ask the Scottish Government to use a compulsory purchase order.
Other sites have also been considered carefully, each with their own advantages and drawbacks.
A site that was previously flagged as a possiblity, around Grahamston station, was discounted early on because of the difficulty in working around the railway line.
Callendar Square and the Antonine Hotel have lots of advantages but are also the most expensive and complex site to deliver.
The bus station and Meadow Street are also in the running but it is felt the location would not have a major impact on regenerating the town centre.
The Howgate shopping centre, including the former Marks & Spencer store, was initially considered until it became clear that M&S was negotiating to sell the building to a third party.
The current site of the municipal buildings and town hall was also considered but rejected as a 'safe option' that would not offer any regeneration benefits and would also mean the council would not be able to sell the land.
All of the properties under consideration have been looked at by the District Valuer, although this information remains confidential.
Other costs are also being taken into account, including demolition and site clearance; site assembly costs and other planning issues.
Wednesday's meeting will also spell the beginning of the end for the municipal buildings, although the town hall will remain operational until its replacement is ready.
It is expected that the land will be sold for housing, but as it has been identified as belonging to the Common Good account of the old Burgh of Falkirk, the community must be consulted about how it is disposed off.
This will begin in June and last for eight weeks.
A spokesperson from the group Healthy High Street said: "This is a fantastic opportunity to regenerate the town centre by delivering this exciting project on the High Street.
"The future prosperity of the Falkirk area is at stake and we believe this site will deliver the investment required to protect and create jobs and further investment in Falkirk.
"We urge all elected members to put party politics aside and to give this exciting proposal the unanimous support that it deserves."