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Renewed focus for community renewal project

The Community Renewable Energy project (CoRE) - one of East Ayrshire’s Ayrshire Growth Deal anchor projects - has emerged from extensive Cabinet discussion and debate this week with a renewed focus on skills and employability.

The shift has been made necessary by the changing climate of rising costs and economic challenges which have affected progress in some aspects of the project.

The project originally secured investment of £17 million from UK Government and £7.5 million from East Ayrshire Council, with plans to leverage additional funding from other sectors to maximise benefits for local communities. It forms part of the £251 million Ayrshire Growth Deal, a ten year investment programme jointly funded by the UK and Scottish governments and the three Ayrshire local authorities.

CoRE aims to showcase how a green economy can transform rural towns and villages and make communities better connected and healthier, with improved standards of living, greener housing stock, lower carbon emissions whilst supporting the creation of long-term sustainable jobs and a just transition to Net Zero.

CoRE will act as a catalyst in helping  the Council reach its target of becoming net  zero  by  2030 and will contribute to the national  target of  achieving  net  zero  by  2045. The project will also provide a route map for other locations in Scotland and the UK to transition rural communities to Net Zero.

The current approved proposal is to create an Innovation Centre at a provisional cost of £16 million and to deliver a programme of Demonstrator Projects at a cost of £8.5 million and together, the ambition is that these will address a number of technical challenges that currently prevent the generation and storage of green energy locally.

The Centre would act as an innovation hub, bringing together multi-skilled teams of academics, researchers, technology companies and new business start-ups,

Their mission would be to tackle the technical challenges that currently prevent the harnessing of local energy generation and storage in an area rich in natural resources such as abundant wind, water and geothermal heat contained in former coal mines.

They will advance understanding of the technical, societal and economic challenges facing  our rural communities as they make the move from dependence on fossil fuels towards green energy sources and cut energy use and emissions through retrofitting of existing buildings and innovative new building design.

The hub will provide vocational training for local people to reskill and upskill working with  business and education partners in schools, colleges and universities.

Significant progress has been made in securing land, preparing designs and acquiring planning consent for the Innovation Centre, but a perfect storm of unforeseen challenges, including COVID-19 pandemic, cost  of  living  crisis,  and rising business and building costs, has prompted the project team to pause work on the Innovation Centre and review the project. 

It is clear that for some groups and individuals, the social, economic and health harms caused by the pandemic and cost of living crisis (in particular) are greater than when CoRE was first designed, and these could have a profound and long-lasting impact, exacerbating existing inequalities in local communities. By reviewing the scope of the project, the team aims to ensure CoRE follows a critical path which best supports local communities to overcome these challenges.

Rising construction costs, inflation, and higher interest rates, have rendered the current design for the proposed building at Knockroon unaffordable. The review identified that the specialist specification may no longer be required in line with changes in working practices post pandemic, meaning that the space required and its use have changed since the original plans were drawn up.

As with every organisation in the time since 2019, many of the partner organisations and stakeholders involved have also reviewed their aims and business practices, while at the same time local businesses are facing a huge challenge due to increased costs and lack of skilled staff. This led to a recognition that more emphasis needs to be placed on training skilled staff to work in the renewables sector to break down barriers to growth and increase local economic prosperity and wellbeing.

The project team found that while the original project idea for CoRE had a very technical focus the socio economic aspects have an increasing importance for the Council and its partners and the project should be refocused to capture these.

As an example, the original scope included the installation of a £1 million battery storage and hydrogen generation system within the grounds of the Centre. After revisiting the plans, the Project Team is working with other partners to explore opportunities to deliver this technology off-site, with external match funding. This broader perspective frees up scope for the exploration of additional opportunities and potential socio-economic benefits.

Welcoming the revamped project plans, Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire said: “When CoRE was first conceived we were living in a very different environment. So much has changed since we secured the initial funding that it was only sensible to take a comprehensive look, together with our partners and stakeholders, at how these plans would fit with the current situation. 

“As a result we’ve revised the aims and objectives for CoRE to put the emphasis on skills and training, health and wellbeing of our communities to make sure that the project is providing comfortable, carbon friendly places to live and work. CoRE will be a catalyst to provide an employability pipeline, creating long-term sustainable jobs with all the skills needed to deliver renewable technologies and installations.

“We’re looking forward to working with University of West of Scotland’s Professor Jonathan Lawrence who will be joining the project on a 12 month secondment to provide us with the technical expertise and industry knowledge we need to push CoRE forward. And we’ll be establishing a Steering Group for each of the Clean Growth work streams as a first phase to drive forward key projects with representatives from all our partners and local and national renewable and sustainable businesses such as:

  • Vattenfall
  • Banks Renewables
  • Brockwell Energy
  • Skills Development Scotland
  • the Energy Agency
  • Scottish Water
  • Scottish Power
  • Emergency 1
  • Egger
  • Wee House Company

“Together we’re confident that although the way we’ll run CoRE has changed from our original plans, we’re well on the road to delivering a prosperous, bright, Net Zero future for the local area and beyond.”

Read our Cabinet report

Visit our Clean Green Climate Change East Ayrshire webpages