Will Falkirk street ‘hub’ cope with demand as bus travel enters a new era?

Buses on Newmarket Street, first day of new bus timetable not using the bus station.
Buses on Newmarket Street, first day of new bus timetable not using the bus station.

Passengers said goodbye to the past when First Scotland East officially pulled out of Falkirk Bus Station on Sunday.

Those same passengers then said hello to the new “hub” area in the town centre’s Upper Newmarket Street, which was teeming with buses and customers on Monday.

In fact it was so busy buses were stretching half the length of the street and out into Hope Street at some points during the day, causing disruption as cars at the traffic lights attempted to head down towards the Howgate Shopping Centre car park.

According to First Bus, the traffic hiccups experienced on the first day of the new operation were down to the sheer number of passengers getting on and off the buses and not the number of buses stopping off and picking up in Upper Newmarket Street.

A First Scotland East spokesman said: “The same amount of buses are going through Newmarket Street, there hasn’t been an increase. It’s more to do with the number of people getting on the buses and we think this is a reaction to the change.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and if we need to look at things again then we will do that.”

The focus on Upper Newmarket Street is just one of a raft of network structure changes initiated by First, with services and routes being altered and, in some cases, dropped entirely.

First Scotland East operations director David Phillips said: “Our aim with these most recent network change proposals is to speed up journeys and create new links for customers.

“This has seen us remove our services from Falkirk Bus Station, which has not been fit for purpose for a number of years now, and instead dedicate our services to the areas of the town where the majority of our customers are looking to get to.

“We are aware this may mean changes to customers’ journeys, but we are confident it will improve our local bus network to the benefit of our passengers.”

While the future of Upper Newmarket Street remains to be seen, the fate of the former Falkirk Bus Station is also not clear at this time.

This week First Bus confirmed it owned the concourse – the pavements – the canopy over it and the land where the buses parked to let passengers on and off.

Hannigan Hotels leased the drivers’ rest area at the bus station and ticket office, but, according to First, it was just not fit for purpose.

Douglas Hannigan, of Hannigan Hotels, said: “The Stroh Brothers own the former Fads and Farmfoods stores, while Hannigans Hotels Ltd own the buildings and land from Renellas to the Engine Room Gym and tattooist.

“Hannigans Hotels Ltd is disappointed First Bus has moved, however, this was their decision. We did not increase the rent on the two units leased by First Bus – the ticket office and the staff rest room – and we did not refuse to carry out repairs.

“All leases are under a standard full tenant repairing and insuring lease.”

Mr Hannigan also addressed rumours circulating about the future of the businesses at the former bus station.

He said: “There are no plans to demolish the site to build a hotel. There was a planning application to turn the two large shops – the former Crockets and Wolsley furniture shop – which haven’t rented into four smaller shops, with the upper floors converted into seven flats.

“We have since remodelled the Remax shop for Oliphants the baker, and Falkirk building company offices, an empty upper office for Donald Watt financial advisor, the old Callander pharmacy for a cash for clothes business, and the upper area at Callander Road into the Engine Room gym and Liam Healy sports therapy – both new start businesses.

“We continue to invest in Falkirk, buying derelict properties and encouraging businesses.”

Both First Bus and Mr Hannigan claim the land at the middle of the bus station belongs to Storm nightclub owners, brothers David and William Johnstone.

However, David Johnstone said all the land at the bus station – the turning circle – which goes around his Meadow Street nightclub, is owned by First Bus as far as he knows and he only owns the land on which Storm is located.

First also stated this week the bus station was still being used by a number of tour operators at the moment, but were being encouraged to move to an alternative venue.