Falkirk Council proposal to sell properties as part of new HQ and arts centre plan

Falkirk’s library could move to become part of a new council headquarters and arts centre costing £53 million.

And the proposals for the new building will also see the ‘for sale’ signs go up on council property including the Registrars’ Building in Falkirk town centre and Denny Town House.

These proposals will be put to members of Falkirk Council’s executive when they meet next Tuesday as the controversial project moves to the next stage.

Councillors will also be asked to give the go-ahead to spending £1.5 million on refurbishing offices in Falkirk Community Stadium, creating modern work stations for 235 council staff.

Moving the library from its landmark home, built in 1902, is part of a plan to create a new headquarters that will bring together staff from several council buildings located around the district.

And local arts organisations will be relieved to see that a modern arts centre that will replace the ageing Falkirk Town Hall is at the heart of the plans.

While the number of shows won’t increase, a more modern facility will allow larger shows to be performed and attract bigger names.

There are also plans to have smaller spaces suitable for other types of entertainment that will be used throughout the day, as well as in the evening.

The  hope is that the library would be able to co-ordinate programming with events and activities that will be taking place in the new arts facility.

At the meeting on Tuesday, members of the executive will look at the report by Douglas Duff, head of planning and economic development, which says officers believe a new office that holds 550 council staff would be best.

Reducing eight offices to just two sites would mean selling Falkirk’s registrars’ office; Denny Town House, Grangemouth’s Sealock House, which currently houses the education department; social work offices in Camelon; and Abbotsford House in Bainsford.

The lease on Callendar Square will also be terminated if the plans go ahead and if a new location is chosen, the municipal buildings and town hall site will also be sold.

Even if the larger offices-space of 550 gets the go-ahead, it won’t be big enough so Falkirk Community Stadium – the most modern building the council owns – will be needed.

It already has a vacant unit on the first floor of which could be refurbished “at a relatively low cost” compared to new build, the report says.

Officers are keen that this part of the project should get started as soon as possible to move staff from increasingly dilapidated offices.

If councillors opt for an arts centre and a smaller office, the council would also retain its premises in The Forum at Callendar Business Park.

Reports have shown that a more modern building would actually save money in the long-term as it will be more energy efficient and there will be no need for expensive repairs.

The new offices will also use around half of the current floor space currently allocated to each person working, according to the report.

If the executive is persuaded that this is the proposal they want, they will appoint a design team and begin the procurement process to find a developer.

Crucially, it will also mean they will finally have to identify a site for the new building.

The design team will include using the current site as a benchmark but Falkirk Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn has previously made it clear she does not favour this.

She and the SNP group believe that the proposed new development will breathe new life into Falkirk’s struggling town centre, with office workers providing a boost to shops during the day and the arts centre providing customers for bars and restaurants in the evening.

The Labour group, however, have not committed to support the idea saying that they believe the previously agreed budget of £45 million is too much when so many community halls are earmarked for closure – including both Bo’ness and Grangemouth town halls.

While funds will come from the capital budget, the Labour group says that repaying the loan will hit the council’s revenue budget and take money from vital services.

The Conservative group have said they will support new offices being built but they do not think an arts centre is necessary.

However, over Christmas, a petition launched by Falkirk Arts and Civic Forum attracted more than 2000 signatures within a few days as they argued that it was unthinkable that Falkirk should not have a town hall.