Falkirk Labour leader says no to offer of a debate on new Council HQ and arts centre

Behind the Wall offered to host the debate
Behind the Wall offered to host the debate

Falkirk pub Behind the Wall has been offered as a venue after an SNP councillor challenged Labour to debate whether or not the council should build a new headquarters and arts centre.

Councillor David Alexander offered to take on the Labour group leader, Robert Bissett, after last week’s news that Labour would no longer support the building of a new council HQ and arts centre.

The Labour group says that the uncertainty caused by Brexit along with continuing austerity meant they could no longer support plans that concentrated resources on just one part of the district.

The SNP adminstration, however, say that replacing the delapidated municipal buildings and town hall with new buildings in the centre of the town would be a major boost for Falkirk’s regeneration.

Brian Flynn, who is chairman of Falkirk Delivers, which represents more than 600 businesses, said he would welcome the debate and offered to host the event.

He said: “Everyone I have spoken to within the town centre business community has been very surprised by Councillor Bissett’s comments and there are many questions unanswered as a consequence.

“A public meeting with both Cllr Alexander and Cllr Bissett on the platform to outline their various proposals to address the long term decline and bring about the regeneration of the entire town centre area, will give us the opportunity to see and judge for ourselves.”

Cllr Alexander said: “Right from day one we have said that we view the regeneration of the town centre as a project would benefit the entire community. That is why we invited representatives of the Labour and Tory groups onto the development group.

“While I am disappointed that one of these groups has thrown this offer back at us, I still believe that the people deserve to hear all sides of the debate and so welcome Brian Flynn’s offer.”

However, Cllr Bissett said he has no plans to take up the SNP’s offer of a debate, saying Labour had made its position clear in its press release.

He said: “As elected members debates on matters affecting council spending take place in the council chamber.

“The issue of the HQ and Arts Centre is ongoing and there are confidential figures that cannot be discussed publicly – this was made clear to elected members at a Council of The Future meeting.

“As stated in the press release, given these uncertain volatile times with Brexit, Parliament closed down, the threat of Indyref2, ongoing austerity, more cuts to councils, with another £76m over the next five years and more job losses, now is  not the time to be discussing an HQ and Arts Centre.”

He added that he was waiting to  meet with the Director of Development Services and Head of Planning and Economic Development to discuss the HQ and arts centre but said a public debate was out of the question.

Cllr Bissett added: “Democracy lives in the council chamber. The HQ and Arts Centre Project will come to full council and will be debated on by 30 elected members and voted on and democracy will win the day.”

“A public platform to suit the SNP is not democracy and may indeed compromise democracy.

“As elected members we are held accountable and are responsible for public finances. The people of Falkirk pay rates and taxes and we have a duty to ensure we are fiscally prudential with their money.”