Council seeks UK Government help to build new bridge

Falkirk Council is applying for funding to build the new Westfield Bridge.

Council seeks UK Government help to build new bridge iStock

Falkirk Council is applying for UK Government cash to help build the new Westfield Bridge – a walkway that will take pedestrians and cyclists across four busy roads around Helix Park and Falkirk Stadium.

But several councillors – from across the political spectrum – were concerned that the highest priority was not being given to work to upgrade the Avon Gorge, which has been promised for years.  

Council officers said that application for cash had to be made in a very short timescale and the Westfield Bridge was the project that was “shovel-ready”.

They did pledge, however, to work with West Lothian Council on a joint funding bid that will be made next year.

The three funds being made available to local councils include a pot of £800m for “levelling up” projects in Scotland over the next four years.

This money has to be invested in local infrastructure projects, with grants of up to £20m – and £50m in exceptional circumstances.

Funding has been targeted to areas of highest economic need and Falkirk is in the highest priority category.

But with just five weeks to complete the application, officers said the Westfield Bridge was the only one that was ready. 

Most of the money for the bridge will come from the TIF (Tax Incremental Finance) scheme, which allows the council to borrow money for infrastructure projects that will generate income from non-domestic rates.

But there was a shortfall in the amount the council could borrow, so officers hope this cash will plug the gap.

Cecil Meiklejohn, Falkirk Council leader, said: “It may not be everybody’s first choice, but this project is the one that’s shovel-ready.

“It will help our commitment to active travel and will free up traffic congestion at four points as well as stimulating our economy and creating jobs.”

Labour group leader Robert Bissett said he wanted to see the Avon Gorge upgrade become a priority but he understood that it would need to be done with West Lothian Council.

Other councillors – including the SNPs Paul Garner and Conservative group leader James Kerr – also said they were impatient to see the Avon Gorge project start, but noted that they would like to see the spend distributed more evenly throughout the district.

Lynn Munro, Conservative councillor for Bo’ness, said it was wrong to be spending “levelling up” money on this project.

She said: “Levelling up is about forgotten or neglected communities – not areas where you have the Helix, the stadium, the new college and lots of industrial units.

“We are looking at the closure of the Bo’ness Road and only have a two-way motorway junction with traffic going west to access the motorway at junction five.

“We have not had new industrial units in many years.

“Businesses cannot start up in Bo’ness easily because of a lack of premises, which means young people have to travel miles to find a job.

“Surely this is what levelling up is intended to help with?”

By local democracy reporter Kirsty Paterson

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