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Cumnock Regeneration

Karl Doroszenko MRTPI, Development Planning and Regeneration Manager at East Ayrshire Council looks at the regeneration work recently undertaken in Cumnock.

How do you make a community truly energy self-sufficient? How do you make that leap to full (i.e. power, heat, transport) energy self-sufficiency while meeting or exceeding carbon reduction targets? How can we at the same time eliminate or drastically reduce fuel poverty? How can we make sure that local businesses grasp the opportunities that will arise as the green energy revolution gathers pace? How can we ensure that new, future proofed industries and jobs are attracted to the local community? How can we develop a new, locally based, energy grid to revitalise local communities and fuel rural regeneration? How indeed… Here in East Ayrshire, we recognised that rather than allowing others to develop answers or solutions, the first step towards an answer was in our own hands.

Our local community recognised that if it wanted to be part of the future it had to embrace the future. Therefore, slowly but surely and out of humble beginnings, but with an in depth appreciation and understanding of the local area and its history, the Cumnock National Energy Research and Demonstrator Project was conceived. The idea grew stronger with a liberal dose of creative and innovative thinking that wasn’t afraid to challenge existing orthodoxies.

The project is being funded with £17 million from UK Government and £7.5 million from East Ayrshire Council as part of the £251.5 million Ayrshire Growth Deal – a 10 year investment programme jointly funded by the UK and Scottish Governments and local authorities. The project positively embraces change – it is forward looking and innovative but (and this is just as important) remains rooted in community. It aims not only to provide a route map to achieve all of the objectives for the local area but to develop a series of interlinked “living lab” demonstration projects to show other rural communities (wherever they are in the world) how it can be done. Our aim is to position Cumnock as the ‘go-to’ place to understand, in terms of energy production and distribution for rural areas, what the future will hold. Our key focus, underlying all our work, has been to use that understanding and the dynamism that will be created through the project, to regenerate and reshape the local economy and, in so doing, ensure that Cumnock and surrounding communities can look forward to a more prosperous future. A vital aspect of the project is to use East Ayrshire’s existing assets in an integrated way for generating energy. For example, former mining ‘bings’ can be repurposed and become sources of heat and power and warm mine waters can literally be tapped to provide heat for homes. Of note is the fact that East Ayrshire produces more wind energy than is needed locally and therefore, the project will explore ways in which we can use and store this excess wind energy within our local communities. The project will also deliver a Centre of Excellence in Energy Systems Research, two Demonstrator Houses and a wide programme of demonstrator projects. Cumnock has experienced significant decline over the last 50 years. Most significant was the closure of deep mining in the 1980s and more recently the collapse of two of the opencast coal operators in 2013 resulted in more than 300 local people losing their livelihoods. Now that the national agenda is switching to non-fossil fuels, interest in and around Cumnock has turned to harnessing new forms of renewable energy, and those redundant assets can now play their part in regenerating the community to become a leading green powerhouse, setting a bold example in the race to become a net zero carbon area.

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