Knockroon Estate, on the outskirts of Cumnock, has been unveiled as the location for a ground breaking, world-leading energy project which will revolutionise how renewable energy supplies are generated, stored and used by communities in the area.
The National Energy Research Demonstrator Project (NERD) will focus on Cumnock as a Regional Community Living Lab for Just Transition to Renewable Power, Heat and Transport, and a centre of academic research and innovation thanks to an investment of £17 million from the UK Government backed up with £7.5 million from East Ayrshire Council - as part of the £251.5 million Ayrshire Growth Deal.
The NERD project will develop a centre of excellence for clean energy research, harnessing existing and new renewable energy technologies (such as hydrogen and geothermal heat) to provide solutions to produce and store energy and create a new, more flexible energy grid.
Cumnock and the surrounding area provides a unique location to investigate a wide mix of energy technologies. This is due to its unique geography, the extent and scale of renewable energy developments in the vicinity (in particular windfarms) and the past history of mineral extraction activity in the area. The area represents the challenges that need to be overcome nationally and internationally if net zero targets and low cost energy generation are to be realised. Where solutions can be developed for the Cumnock area, through the NERD project, they can be widely replicable in other Scottish, UK and European towns.
A number of sites around Cumnock were considered as potential locations for the NERD Centre of Excellence, including Caponacre Industrial Estate; land to the east of Auchinleck Road in Cumnock; the former Auchinleck Academy site and land on the Knockroon Estate. Following assessment and evaluation of all the land options in relation to the objectives of the NERD, and in consultation with the key partners involved in the project, Knockroon Estate emerged as the preferred location.
This site offers a prominent location within Cumnock that will realise the ambitions and activities of the NERD Centre of Excellence that have been proposed within the Outline Business Case. It has also been confirmed that the Council will activate a clause which was part of a Minute of Agreement agreed between East Ayrshire Council and the Developer in November 2010, relating the Knockroon Masterplan - subject to both parties reaching agreement on the final design of the building relative to the Knockroon Design Guidance.
A key project objective is for the NERD project to maximise links with East Ayrshire schools and further education establishments across Scotland as well as maximise job creation and work experience opportunities. The aim is to enhance the offering of existing STEM related education within schools and in so doing help improve options for employment opportunities and, in the longer term, tackle deprivation across communities within the Cumnock area and East Ayrshire as a whole. The Knockroon Estate site offers the best opportunity to maximise educational and physical links to the new Barony Campus, with the Centre of Excellence offering practical STEM courses for all ages.
In addition, the location of the site will offer the potential opportunity to create an affordable low carbon heat network with the Barony Campus, existing housing infrastructure and the new housing being delivered as part of the Knockroon Masterplan.
Whilst the preferred location for the NERD Centre of Excellence is the Knockroon Estate in Cumnock, there will be significant NERD activity within Auchinleck and other surrounding communities over the lifetime of the project. The programme of demonstrator projects aims to introduce low carbon solutions with much of the activity taking place in these communities, including developing low carbon hubs at key locations. The NERD project team will continue to work closely with all communities in the south of East Ayrshire to better understand their low carbon aspirations and how the NERD project could help develop and facilitate community energy projects.
Karl Doroszenko, Development Planning and Regeneration Manager with East Ayrshire Council is heading up the project team for the NERD project.
He said: “This is exciting news for the communities of Auchinleck and Cumnock. The NERD project will bring many benefits and advantages to these local communities over the lifetime of the project – and beyond – as the low carbon alternatives start to revolutionise modern day living.
“Agreeing the location for the Centre of Excellence is the first major milestone for this project and we look forward to working with Faithful and Gould, the appointed design team, to finalise the designs for the NERD Centre of Excellence at Knockroon Estate.”
While subject to planning permission it is anticipated, that the construction for the Centre of Excellence building and the two Demonstrator Houses will begin in 2022, with completion in autumn 2023.