Three possible sites for new council HQ which holds key to a prosperous Falkirk town centre

editorial image

There’s a famous misquoted line in Kevin Costner’s 1989 film Field of Dreams – “build it and they will come”.

While Falkirk Council’s much anticipated new civic headquarters might not have anything to do with Mr Costner or baseball, the local authority leadership is making no secret of the fact the plans are vitally important when it comes to propelling the struggling town centre back up to the major leagues.

While it is not as simple as saying “built it and they will come”, the construction of the new headquarters – in whatever form it takes – is the centrepiece of a plan to help Falkirk, which saw the closure of a number of stores last year including Marks and Spencers, survive and prosper for years to come.

Rhona Geisler, director of development services, said: “We’ve only got one shot at this and we want to make sure it’s absolutely right. We are aiming big here and bold. “We’re looking to become the model town centre for the 21st century.

“This is about the council being the heart of the town.”

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn added: “We want to create something that has a great economic benefit to the whole district. We want it to be the old and the new coming together and we’re calling for developers, telling them we want it to be quite iconic.”

The proposals, which were due to be discussed at the council’s executive on Tuesday, have the potential to be a catalyst in attracting investment to the town centre from private sector and other partners.

Mrs Geisler told The Falkirk Herald the council was looking to go out to procurement around three key sites. Although she could not give specific details she did confirm the locations were in the east, west and Grahamston areas of Falkirk Town Centre.

“We’re open for business and looking for new good ideas,” said Mrs Geisler. “We are saying to the government and anyone else who will listen, we want Falkirk to be the example of a town centre for the 21st century.

“We understand town centres of the past are not coming back. We want people to come to Falkirk because of the nice shops they want to visit and have a look around. Ever since the Falkirk Wheel and, more recently, the Helix opened we have been looking to get people to go from these locations into the town centre.

“We have been struggling with that, but now we have plans for walking and cycling links to and from these attractions and the town centre.”

Mrs Meiklejohn added: “The fact we have lost a number of retailers is quite significant and in order to turn that around we need to generate footfall. We do this by locating our headquarters as close to the town centre as we possibly can – that’s what the existing retailers are telling us they want us to do.”

It is proposed the HQ will operate as more a hub, where people from a variety of businesses and organisations can drop in and use the available office space as per the mobile flexible working approach.

Mrs Meiklejohn said: “We could share our office accommodation with third sector and private sector organisations, making the building more affordable to deliver. We are looking for partners to do this.

“We may not have an agreement with just one developer. It doesn’t need to be just one building – it might be two, it might be three buildings, depending on what the market sees.”

One thing certain is whoever designs the headquarters will have to take the history of Falkirk and its residents and retailers into account.

“One of the outcomes we want from all of this is to develop a sense of civic pride within Falkirk,” said Mrs Meiklejohn. ““We want to bring aspects of our culture, our heritage into the town centre.”

The complex procurement stage of the process is expected to take at least until the end of the year so people will not have a shiny new council headquarters to visit any time soon.

Mrs Meiklejohn said: “It’s going to take time, but there are things we can be getting on with and doing in the meantime to help retailers. We will be keeping people up to date with progress – making sure everyone knows what’s going on.

“Falkirk Delivers, our BID (Business Improvement District), is key here as they can have face to face communication with retailers.”