CONSTRUCTION firm Balfour Beatty has won a £13.5 million contract to carry out the civil engineering and canal work on the Helix project, the £43m scheme to redevelop land between Falkirk and Grangemouth.
The 450-hectare site near chemicals giant Ineos’ Grangemouth refinery will be turned into parkland and visitor attractions, along with a connection linking the Forth & Clyde canal, the Firth of Forth and the River Carron.
At the centre of the development will be “the Kelpies”, two 30-metre tall sculptures designed by artist Andy Scott to represent mystical Scottish water-horses, which will be clearly visible from the nearby M9 motorway.
The deal with Balfour Beatty, which is the largest contract awarded for the scheme, will involve building canal locks, a turning pool for boats and a tunnel under the M9 to feed the canal.
Mike King, programme director for the Helix, said the project aims to bring in up to 500,000 visitors each year, spending around £7m in the local economy.
King hopes the project will match the success of the nearby Falkirk Wheel, the boat lift that reconnected the Forth & Clyde and Union canals under a millennium project.
“I’ve lived and worked in Falkirk all my life and it’s amazing the difference that the Falkirk Wheel has made,” he said. “It brings in so many visitors and has given a real boost to the whole area.”
The Helix Trust – the charity created by British Waterways Scotland, Falkirk Council and the Central Scotland Forest Trust to deliver the project – received a £25m grant from the Big Lottery Fund in 2007.
Further funding has come from the canal operator and the local council.
Work on the site did not get under way until last year though, prompting some observers to think that the project wasn’t going ahead.
“Helix is definitely happening,” said King. “Work on new foot and cycle paths to link communities to the parkland is already under way by Land Engineering and the whole project is due to be completed by the end of the summer in 2013. So there’s not all that long to go now.”
King is preparing to award the remaining contracts for other work on the site, including the central park, a lagoon and further paths, before the end of May.
He said the site had been underdeveloped in the past because of the large amount of overhead power lines feeding into Grangemouth and the Ineos and Scottish Water infrastructure buried beneath the area.
“One of the big benefits of building the Kelpies will be to keep visitors in the Falkirk area for longer,” King said.
“At the moment, they may only come for a few hours to visit the Falkirk Wheel, but soon they will be able to visit the Kelpies too and then go for a walk in the parkland or on to other tourist attractions, like Callendar House.”
As well as increasing visitor numbers to the area, the Helix project aims to increase the number of boats using the Forth & Clyde canal.
At present, about 200 vessels use the waterway each year, but this total is expected to double when the new locks open and could rise to as many as 750, according to King. Around 12 maintenance jobs will be created when the project is complete.
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