Herald Scotland - The Ayrshire mining community of Cumnock is poised to get become Scotland's fully 'Green Town'.
The plan is to make Cumnock carbon neutral town, creating a blueprint that can be rolled out across the rest of Scotland.
The plans include proposals for the community to run its own hi-tech renewable energy system - based on sun, wind and water power - and make use of cutting edge digital and smart technologies.
The regeneration proposals which have been put forward by the Scotland's Towns Partnership, and received backing from the Scottish Government and the local council. Energy and communications suppliers including Scottish Power to BT are also supporting the plans.
The town, which is the birthplace of Keir Hardie – the first Labour MP – and has a population of about 1300 is considered to be of perfect size to test cutting edge renewable technologies on a mass scale, as well as smart metres and devices, high speed communications networks, 'passive buildings' - which are carbon neutral - and the widespread use of electric vehicles and cycle networks.
Phil Prentice, head of Scotland's Towns Partnership, said that Cumnock, which lies in a sleepy East Ayrshire backwater with poor transport links, could be transformed as the most technologically advanced town in the country, addressing issues such as fuel poverty and employment opportunities.
"The vision for Cumnock is to create Scotland's first truly sustainable energy town, a town which is carbon neutral and highly functioning but which respects the environment," he said."Why not have Cumnock as the first town that owns and manages it's own renewable energy supply, where education and business opportunities are improved through digital deployment and where smart meters, passive buildings, recovered brown space, cycling and pedestrianisation become the norm?"
He claimed that once systems had been put in place to make Cumnock carbon neutral, lessons could be learned elsewhere helping the Scottish Government meet its renewable targets, which have so far been largely met by shutting coal-fuelled power station Longannet.
"There are a hundred Cumnocks, small towns across Scotland," he said. "These are the places that once were useful but then the industry left. Cumnock provided Scotland with the coal to power houses and businesses for generations. Now we are going to lead the way to show how energy can transform our future generations."
Last Thursday partners met for the first time to commit to the proposals with more detailed delivery and action plans being put together in collaboration with local community groups in the next six months. Prentice said that though it would be a long-term project we hoped many of its ambitious targets would be achieved in the first five years, with carbon neutral status reached within a decade.
Graham Campbell, district general manager for Scottish Power Energy Networks, claimed the town was ideally placed to embrace renewable energy with rivers and burns running through it that could be harnessed for hydro power and plenty of great sites to make use of wind energy. He pointed to opportunities for anaerobic digestion to create even more energy - using waste materials such as local grass cuttings - and said solar panels could also be added to houses across the town, with adaptations made to create passive - or energy neutral - buildings.
"It's very exciting," he said of the proposal. "The energy network is changing and we are now seeing a bigger uptake of low carbon technologies but that has been at a very local level. This is an opportunity to put Cumnock back on the map."
A community run energy network could not only supply energy for the whole town's needs but sell back additional energy to the grid, he claimed.
He added: "The reality is that this type of development is going to happen anyway. If we don't take the initiative and do it then the private sector will leap in and reap the benefits. The community will be shut out. The revolution is already under way."
Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council, said: “This is a hugely positive idea that could provide massive benefits for Cumnock and indeed the whole of Scotland.
"Although the idea is still at a very early stage, many different agencies including the Scottish Government and Scotland’s Towns Partnership have met with Cumnock Action Plan steering group to discuss what they could do to help Cumnock become Scotland’s greenest town." All are committed to working together to bring the plans to reality, he added.
"Becoming a fully green town would obviously be a long-term project, but the opportunities it would present in terms of taking people out of fuel poverty, increasing jobs and boosting tourism are exciting ones."
A Scottish Government spokesperson confirmed it had discussed plans with the Scottish Towns Partnership last week and said it would continue to work with them to "support regeneration, develop a sustainable economy, improve energy efficiency, tackle fuel poverty and consider how we can take this forward in other communities across in Scotland".
Source: Herald Scotland