FALKIRK, A FAIR TOWN OR ALL ‘FUR COAT AND NO KNICKERS’?
Falkirk District Council and those involved in erecting the fabulous ‘Kelpies’ near Falkirk will be giving themselves a huge pat on the back and congratulating themselves for a job well done. There is no doubt that these magnificent sculptures by Andy Scott towering an impressive 30 metres form a splendid back drop to the ‘Helix’ recreation park nearby. A fitting climax to the Falkirk Wheel and the Millions spent on the renovation of the Forth and Clyde Canal Network.
Yet in all this self-indulgent back slapping and sense of achievement by those splendid individuals collectively involved in this colossal project I can’t help wondering if the money it cost could not have been better spent in the area. Yes the world and his wife agree that the Falkirk Wheel is a monumental fete of engineering and has been a huge success in terms of visits to the site and revenue to the local economy but the amount of traffic that has used the canals as a result of the countless millions spent on them is debatable to say the least. As a person who lives in the Falkirk area I observed the development of the Falkirk Wheel and the Helix Project with great interest and despite my reservations about the logic I was suitably impressed with the ingenuity of both significant ventures. I can also remember being slightly reassured about the value of the Falkirk Wheel when I saw numerous barges use the various locks and canal bridges in the area. This sight was something that used to happen on a regular basis back in the day when much of the industrial goods were transported via the Forth and Clyde canals. The Falkirk Wheel allowed barges to transfer from one canal network to the other for the first time and I am sure many hoped to see more traffic on the canals transporting goods that normally congest our roads. Unfortunately the increase in traffic on the canals proved to be short lived and the novelty soon wore off. Instead of seeing the bridges raised every other day to accommodate the canal dwelling tourists there are hardly any barges to be seen from one year to the next. So what then becomes of this tourist attraction that was created to transfer canal barges but hardly ever does so, a very expensive ornament for the cameras perhaps?
Notwithstanding the artistic creativity of the Kelpies set in the tranquil surroundings of the Helix Project and the Forth and Clyde Canal along with the engineering excellence of the Falkirk Wheel it does leave a slightly bad taste in the mouth. More so when we reflect on the fact that the Falkirk area has a staggering 38,000 houses currently under the National Standard according to ‘Shelter’ and more than 8,000 families on the waiting list for local authority accommodation. Not to mention the fact that there are at least 1200 families in the Falkirk area officially registered as living in temporary accommodation with a further 300 registered as homeless. The £85 Million it cost to erect the Falkirk wheel and refurbish the canals along with the £45 Million it cost to develop the Helix Project and erect the ‘Kelpies’ would have went a long way to bringing those 38,000 substandard houses in the Falkirk area up to standard and dramatically reduce the 8,000 waiting list along with the 1200 in temporary accommodation and the 300 without a home. As much as I admire the artistic creativity of the Kelpies and the engineering excellence of the Falkirk Wheel I do think that Falkirk District Council need to seriously review their list of priorities.
Of course Falkirk District Council did not provide all the money for these projects but the money they did provide and the additional investment they somehow managed to attract could have provided decent homes and adequate shelter for tens of thousands of people in the Falkirk area. As much as I appreciate the sight of those two local attractions I would appreciate the sight of hundreds of new local authority houses being built and thousands of local authority houses being refurbished much better. Just imagine the impact on the local economy of all those jobs created as a result of all that construction and the impact it would have on the local communities as well as the local economy. Some may see ventures like the Falkirk Wheel and the helix Project as innovative and creative and also enhancing the image of the district of Falkirk. I see it as money that could have been far better spent elsewhere on things that would have improved the lives of thousands who live in substandard housing or have no home at all. It begs the question is Falkirk a ‘Fair Town’ or is it all ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’?