Provost’s casting vote takes plan to the next stage but SNP say timing is wrong
Over three hours of debate at a special meeting on Monday ended with agreement the ‘asset rationalisation’ project progress to stage two.
But with the Labour-led administration a member down and the district’s Tory depute provost opting to abstain, it was left to Provost Pat Reid to use his casting vote to break a 15-15 deadlock and approve the next step.
Rhona Geisler, the council’s director of development services will now start more detailed talks with contractors Hubco to deliver designs for the new build at West Bridge Street and prepare a planning application.
Closing a deal with Forth Valley Health Board to buy the Westbank Clinic site for £175,000 and negotiating an extension to the lease of its ‘One Stop’ in Callendar Square for at least a year are other priorities, while the possibility of relocating Falkirk Town Hall to the new £80 million Forth Valley College campus will be the subject of a business case to be considered for final approval by the council in October.
Mrs Geisler presented a 108-page report in support of providing hundreds of council staff with offices fit for purpose.
She insisted it was “cost effective” to have so many staff under one roof - and repeatedly made it clear the borrowing cannot be used for anything else - but opposition councillors lined up to have the scheme scrapped.
SNP Councillor Martin Oliver labelled it a “vanity project”, while the Non Aligned Independent Group said the design of the build is likely to win the town the Carbunkle of the Year award.
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn claimed the public consultation process had not been as “robust” as it could have been - despite the report explaining it had lasted 12 weeks and from over 150,000 residents who could have responded, only 175 people did.
Council leader Craig Martin moved the report’s recommendations.
He said: “This will be a self-financing spend-to-save initiative and I’m sure the people of Falkirk district understand that.
“The funding can’t be used for anything else because it’s all tied up with renting and maintaining the municipal buildings and our offices at Abbotsford House, Callendar Square and Willow House which are costing us £1.9 million a year, It also has the potential to save the taxpayer £260,000 a year.”
TIMING OF PLAN IS WRONG SAY SNP
The leader of the SNP Group on Falkirk Council has claimed now is not the time to be thinking about spending over £20 million on a new headquarters.
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn also challenged the proposal to site a new town hall on the Forth Valley College site at Middlefield - and a suggestion from Falkirk Community Trust to consider relocating Falkirk’s main library in Hope Street as part of the scheme.
At Monday’s special meeting Councillor Meiklejohn argued: “At a time of continuing austerity and cuts in services this is the wrong time to bring such a major project forward.
“We believe all options have not been fully explored and presented to members or the general public and that the financial model has been inadequately developed to provide assurance of the project delivery.
“The proposal to incorporate the town hall within Forth Valley College new build is also rejected on the grounds that it is not fit for purpose and the inclusion of the library is inappropriate at this stage because members have not been provided with enough information.”
Councillor Martin Oliver claimed: “The public do not have any confidence in this council. They see this as a vanity project that has to be stopped now.”
Local MSPs Angus MacDonald and Michael Matheson also hit out at the proposed spend.
Mr MacDonald said: “The decision to proceed highlights how out of touch this administration is with public opinion. It should be concentrating on building more social housing, not a ‘Councillors Palace’.”
Mr Matheson, who represents the town centre, said: “My constituents and I feel extremely let down by this decision and this process.
“It’s clear our calls and concerns have been ignored and the trust between elected members and those they were elected to represent has been severely damaged by this outrageous decision.”