Council votes to re-think plans on spending millions on new HQ

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Councillors have agreed to step back from a proposed £23 million spend on new headquarters and town hall.

A meeting of Falkirk Council on Wednesday agreed by one vote to continue one project and not proceed with the other.

The SNP claimed the entire scheme has now been ‘kicked into the long grass’ and will not be back on the agenda until after the local government elections next May.

So far plans to replace the Municipal Buildings have cost the taxpayer £560,000 in professional fees. Cancelling it completely would add at least another £470,000 to the bill.

Had it been supported, work could have started on the replacement HQ at West Bridge Street in the Autumn. Instead the Labour-led administration voted 16-15 to put it on hold.

Council leader Craig Martin blamed the threat of an estimated £20 million cut in funding by the Scottish Government in 2017 as one reason for the decision.

In 2014 the council proposed an ‘asset rationalisation’ plan to close three offices and move over 500 staff to the new location.

The argument was the council would save over £800,000 a year in rent and thousands more in heating and maintenance costs. Coupled with the proceeds from selling the site to developers, it would then be in a position to pay the mortgage on the new build and invest in a new town hall elsewhere.

Councillor Martin claimed: “Two years ago asset rationalisation was a good idea given that no money to pay for it would have to come from any other council service.

“But times have changed. With the funding gap in the next financial year estimated at £20 million, and taking into consideration the statement from the First Minister there will be a review of local government, it would be inappropriate to build a new council headquarters if there is not going to be a council here. These things are game changers and the people of Falkirk district should know that.”

The council also agreed to cancel the £7 million proposal to relocate the town hall to the new £80 million Forth Valley College Campus at Middlefield.

A more detailed investigation into the possibility of siting a new arts and civic centre in the town centre will now be explored in greater detail.

The SNP Group on Falkirk Council has urged the Labour-led administration to think about appointing a new leader.

Opposition councillors criticised the performance of Mr Martin following Wednesday’s decision.

Councillor David Alexander claimed: “Due dilligence has not been carried out while £1m was spent before there was any public consultation. It’s all been smoke and mirrors and it hurts me to say there has to be a change in this administration. We all know this will not come back before this council before the election next year.”

Group leader Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn said: “The full list of options for the headquarters have not been investigated and having been starved of investment for many years, the town hall can be upgraded above the specification of the proposed new facilty at less cost.”