Will there be an East End exit by bus firm?

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Rumours have been flying around over the last few weeks about the future of Falkirk Bus Station as the town’s very own East End soap opera continues.

Claims First Bus were withdrawing from their base in Callendar Road – some people are certain they are leaving in July and making Newmarket Street their new Falkirk station – seem to be a little premature, with the director of the bus firm himself stating they were still seeking clarification from owners of the site on certain matters.

First Scotland East managing director Andrew Jarvis: “We are aware that a number of local shops have been served with notices to leave the various properties that form Falkirk Bus Station by the current owners.

“First Scotland East have not received any notices to date and are seeking clarification from the owners on their proposals for the various properties.”

The Falkirk Herald talked to a number of businesses located at the bus station site, including Quick Stop News, Oliphants and Kiltpin, and discovered none of them had received any notices to vacate the premises.

What they had received was notification of the owner’s plans for two vacant properties at 15 to 17 and 19 Callendar Riggs.

Douglas Hannigan, who owns the bus station site, believes people have got the wrong end of the stick about the situation.

Speaking from his home in Florida, Mr Hannigan said: “I got a phone call last week telling me bus drivers had been telling people the bus station was shutting down in July. So I phoned the council to try and find out what was going on.

“We have just had planning permission granted to create seven flats in the vacant properties including the former Crockets shop, and form four small shops – no one is getting evicted.

“It’s annoying when you hear things like this because businesses like Oliphants are doing really well at the bus station and we have put in five new companies so far. We also have three tenants looking to go into the four new shops we will be creating.”

The planning applications, both granted permission on May 22, are for alterations to shopfronts and change of use of first and second floor shops to form a total of seven flats.

Mr Hannigan, who said he was concerned about the current situation with Marks and Spencer, believes Falkirk Council missed a trick when it did not purchase Callendar Square Shopping Centre to use it as its new council HQ.

The centre suffered two heavy blows in succession when retailers TK Maxx announced in 2014 they were leaving Callendar Square for the Central Retail Park. Then in 2016 BHS closed its doors for good.

Before Callendar Square was purchased last year, Falkirk Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn stated the council was not looking at the premises as a potential replacement municipal buildings because it was simply not large enough to use as a headquarters.

Mr Hannigan said: “The council can help the town by moving into the town centre. It’s common sense. Everyone wants Falkirk to grow. I always try to let businesses grow because if they cannot make money then how can they pay rent?”

Now living in the USA, Mr Hannigan returns home at intervals throughout the year and says he was shocked by the state of Falkirk town centre on his last visit.

He said: “It’s terrifying. If you walk up and down the High Street now it doesn’t even feel safe. I only come back four times a year so the changes I see are kind of shocking.”

Falkirk Bus Station has been under fire for a number of years – and has even been branded an “eyesore” on a number of occasions.

In the past the rest of the town “fed” off business the bus station generated but the economic problems that have dogged the last decade hit the bus station particularly hard, with shops closing and the structure falling into disrepair.

It is a prime example of what can happen in tough financial times when hard to come by investment has gone elsewhere – with a refurbished High Street and tourist attractions like Falkirk Wheel, the Keplies and Helix getting all the funding and the visitors.

A few years ago historian and Falkirk Herald columnist Ian Scott said: “There is no doubt the current state of the bus station is an embarrassment to a town which is doing everything it can to attract visitors to historic gems like Callendar House or modern marvels like the Wheel and Helix.

“First impressions count and I’m afraid we will be judged by many on this rundown, unwelcoming and obviously unloved gateway. I met friends there last year and they were so disappointed I couldn’t get them away from the place quick enough.”

The bus station has come up regularly in the chambers of Falkirk Council with councillors bemoaning the sorry state of the once thriving location.

They were concerned its decline as a result of a lack of any serious investment over the years has contributed to a lack of interest in developing the east end of the town.

Unfortunately the situation is not helped by the fact the council has very little land interest in the area, making it almost impossible to apply for funding from government agencies to regenerate the site.