Falkirk Council’s Labour group says it will not support the building of a new council headquarters and arts centre in Falkirk town centre – a project they have dubbed ‘Cecil’s Castle’.
But the announcement was met with fury from the council’s SNP group as well as town centre businesses who say the proposals will bring much-needed investment into Falkirk town centre in a bid to halt years of decline.
SNP portfolio holder for economic development, Cllr David Alexander, accused the Labour group of “turning their backs” on town centre traders, businesses and residents of the community.
In a statement, Councillor Robert Bissett, leader of the council’s Labour Group, said they would not support a scheme that concentrated investment in one area - nor will it support any project that adds to the council’s long-term loans and subsequent spending cuts.
He said: “Council funding has been cut dramatically, £120 million from Falkirk’s budget in five years, and Falkirk’s SNP councillors seem happy to allow this to continue for the foreseeable future, with another £76m over the next five years and 383 jobs cut.
“At a time when they are cutting money for our schools, children’s clubs, bus services, community groups, care of the elderly and vulnerable, waste collection, community safety, poverty alleviation and leisure and recreational facilities...Labour cannot, and will not, accept the spending of an estimated £45m plus on one site in the centre of Falkirk.
“If there is £45 million available for spending then I, along with every other resident in the Falkirk council area, could come up with a long list of priorities before a new council headquarters and arts centre.”
Cllr Bissett dubbed the planned centre “Cecil’s Castle”, referring to council leader, Cecil Meiklejohn.
But a group representing several high street retailers said they were appalled at the comments, saying they appeared to be sabotaging town centre regeneration plans “for political gain”.
Margaret Foy, speaking on behalf of the Healthy High Street group, said members attended the Executive Committee meeting last year, chaired by the then leader of the Labour Group, where political parties unanimously agreed to proceed with a new arts centre and Council headquarters within the town centre.
She said: “One year on, the Labour Group appear to be intent upon reneging on this agreement and have publicly stated they will oppose the plans referring to it as “a vanity project”.
“The Labour Group’s statement attempts to suggest that funding source for the new headquarters will impose a burden on local tax payers and/or result in funding being reallocated from other budgets. This is factually incorrect.
“The Healthy High group call on all elected members of Falkirk Council to set aside party politics.
“The type of transformational change for the entire Falkirk area that is made possible by the new town centre headquarters facilities will be delivered only if members of the Council behave responsibly, honour their commitments and avoid the small town party politics of yesteryear.”
Brian Flynn, owner of Behind the Wall - who also chairs Falkirk BID which represents 620 businesses in and around the town centre - said: “Calling it Cecil’s Castle is pathetic! We’re behind what the leader of the council is trying to achieve to build a lasting legacy for the town and Labour seems to be railing against it.
“We have been hanging out for this in excess of ten years now and the Labour party previously committed to it. All of a sudden they have changed their minds. We are completely and utterly shocked at what seems to be a U-turn from them.”
The SNP’s David Alexander said the proposal, will bring economic regeneration as well as much-needed new offices for the council’s workforce.
“If anything typifies Labour in Falkirk it is their failure to grasp the need for vision for our town centres,” he said.
“Despite being given a seat at the top table Labour Councillors would rather play politics than deliver a regenerated Falkirk Town centre.
“Their dubbing of the project “Cecil’s Castle” also shows the immature mentality of a group of adults playing with people’s livelihoods.”
Cllr Bissett, said: “Things change and we live in volatile times with Brexit, the threat of Indy2 and ongoing austerity so we in Labour have had thorough discussion around this and arrived at the decision in our press release.”