Falkirk Council: Building closures & transfers confirmed along with new £6m hubs
A long-awaited report is the beginning of the end for several Falkirk Council-owned buildings across the district.
The Strategic Property Review (SPR) has taken five years to prepare amid arguments, debate and consultation.
But it is still just the next step towards the council's end goal of having fewer buildings in better condition.
The SPR, presented to a meeting of Falkirk Council on Tuesday, has taken stock of nearly 300 council properties.
The plan is to get rid of those that are old and too expensive to run - with a backlog of maintenance work that would cost £36 million to carry out.
Many buildings are not energy-efficient and getting rid of them would also help the council meet its climate emergency targets.
Some new buildings will be created, notably the £45 million arts centre and new council headquarters planned for Falkirk town centre.
Three new central hubs will be developed in the east, west and central areas of the district, with £6 million set aside for that purpose.
Investment is also planned for Grangemouth Sports Complex, which needs major work to upgrade its facilities.
But the report also shows that the council wants to make more use of facilities that schools have to offer.
The report also earmarks several community halls to transfer out of council ownership to be run by management committees and volunteers.
Others that could look at new models of ownership include community education centres.
Grangemouth Golf Course is already on target to be taken over by a committee and Polmont Sports Centre and Polmont Ski Slope are also earmarked for a possible transfer or partnership.
While this has happened successfully with some community halls, concerns have been raised at how this would work for large buildings such as Bo’ness and Grangemouth town halls.
Some of the buildings will be closed or transferred with little fuss - but others will be more controversial and the council has pledged to consult more with local communities before any final decisions are made.
Councillors heard that consultations so far have shown there is "an understanding of the problems faced by the Council as identified by the SPR".
But there are still many issues that need to be addressed, including what kind of access communities will get to school facilities and what transport will be available to get people there.
Several closures have already been agreed as part of the plans to build a replacement town hall and council headquarters and refurbish council-owned offices in Larbert and at Falkirk Stadium.
That will mean the closure of the Municipal Buildings, Abbotsford House, the social work office in Camelon, Sealock House in Grangemouth, Denny Town House and The Forum in Callendar Park.
Hallglen Sports Centre, which closed suddenly and controversially when its heating failed, is also on the list.
Others that are set to close for good include Queen Street Nursery, Victoria Buildings and the Outdoor Education Base, Stewart Road; and the former Sign Factory, all in Falkirk.
Grangemouth buildings include the Museum Workshop, the Finance Store and Zetland bothy.
People who were consulted also highlighted how important community halls have been during the Covid-19 pandemic and also raised fears that many of the buildings are in poor condition and will need a lot of work to maintain.
The Labour group refused to endorse the SPR, with Councillor Joan Coombes said it was full of "doublespeak" and "corporate gobble-de-gook".
She said: "The first phrase that got me thinking ‘doublespeak’ was: 'Review and develop options to assist communities to participate in new delivery models'.
"The true meaning of that is: 'If you want to keep your building you will have to run it yourself!'
She added: "We must be straight with communities - if we have to close buildings due to SNP underfunding we should say so. "
Group leader Robert Bissett blamed budgets cuts of £170 million over the past 11 years for the proposals.
"How many leisure centres, community centres, libraries or schools would £170 million buy?" he asked.
But SNP members pointed out that the community transfer had begun under a Labour administration and many communities are already keen to get transfers underway.
The SNP leader of the council, Cecil Meiklejohn, said it was easy for the opposition to "kick the government" and she was disappointed at the lack of constructive suggestions.
Labour's amendment would, she said, simply create further delay for communities who are very keen to transfer the hall into community ownership, such as Bainsford where volunteers are eager to take over the local hall.
Some councillors, including Labour's Pat Reid and the SNP's Fiona Collie said it was time to stop wasting time arguing and urged the groups to work together.
Ms Collie said: "It's clear that under-investment goes back decades - these are facts.
"Our buildings are in a poor state of disrepair and many of them are not accessible to people with disabilities - the question is what are we going to do about.
"I can't blame people for being apprehensive, when councillors are scaremongering and saying facilities are at risk without having facts in front of them.
"I'm sure all of us have done it at some point but its no wonder fear and inaction are the results.
"We do our communities no service by behaving like this."
The next stage will involve, at long last, more detailed consultation with communities which buildings can be transferred or closed and when and what support will be given to the people who volunteer to make that happen.